by Cheryl Ashlie/Special to THE NEWS
Recently I had the pleasure of being the emcee for the annual Intensify Your Laugh Lines Education Forum for older adults, which is organized by Bev Schumahmann of the Ridge Meadows Seniors Society and an amazing group of volunteer seniors from the Ridge Meadows Seniors Activity Centre.
The event was fully subscribed to and the presenters did not disappoint the people who attended, as the information they provided was well-worth giving up a sunny Saturday.
All of the speakers were informative and impactful, covering subjects relating to getting “end of life” affairs and finances in order, awareness of the latest scams that fraudsters are targeting seniors with, learning about post-retirement employment options, how to keep a healthy mind, and about navigating the health care system.
Yet the one speaker who I felt stole the show, was a 12-year-old local student, named Mohnish, who gave a passionate speech on the issue of elder abuse.
Mohnish had investigated the subject for his public speaking project at school, and ever since he has been on a quest to bring awareness of the predominance of elder abuse in North America. He made a personal pledge to educate as many people as possible, in order to end it.
And after hearing the facts on this issue from him, it is clear that his quest is worthy of supporting.
According to Mohnish and backed up on the Government of Canada website, elder abuse comes in the form of physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, financial and in the form of neglect.
And like most cases of abuse, the abusers are often known to the victim, with one third of perpetrators being a close family member.
An extensive survey on the subject was released in 2016 called, Into the Light: National Survey on the Mistreatment of Older Canadians, and it estimated that 766,000 Canadian seniors were abused during the one-year study period of the survey.
The study determined that the data was representative of the overall trend and that, in fact, the number could actually be higher – as accessing seniors who are isolated was problematic for the surveyors, making that population statistically under represented.
The study highlighted that women are abused more than men and the abuse on women is more likely perpetrated by their spouse, ex-spouse, child or grandchild – depending on the type of abuse that is being experienced.
Sexual, physical, and verbal abuse is typically perpetrated by a spouse or ex-spouse, and children, grandchildren, or a close relative often perpetrate financial, physical, or verbal abuse on the senior.
Past victims at high risk
The study also found that people who had been abused earlier in their life – sexually or physically assaulted as a child –had a higher incidence of being abused as a senior.
It references previous studies that have taken place around the world and clarifies that Canada is not alone in its shocking statistics of elder abuse.
In fact, growing awareness of elder abuse throughout the world prompted the United Nations in 2006 to proclaim June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Being aware of the reality of elder abuse is an important first step in combating this societal blight, but taking action to end it is harder to do, due to the abuse often not being reported by the senior.
Most seniors are ashamed to admit that they are being abused at the hands of a loved one, or are afraid to report them as they are dependent on the person for supports.
No specific laws in place
According to a report on the Justice Department of Canada website, the challenge with protecting seniors from abuse is due to the fact that there is “no specific crime of elder abuse under the Canadian Criminal Code, the federal statute that creates criminal offences. Nor is there any other Canadian statute that criminalizes the mistreatment of elderly people in particular.”
It goes on to explain, “This does not mean it is legal to harm older people in Canada; it means that the mistreatment of older adults must be captured by general criminal law provisions within the Criminal Code in order to be considered crimes.”
In other words, a child taking their parent’s money from a bank account that they have been given access to by the parent, cannot be stopped by an institution, unless the parent presses criminal charges.
And considering many seniors may have cognitive issues, the likelihood of them being a good witness is not high – which makes initiating the charge and prosecution challenging.
There is provincial legislation, such as the Adult Guardianship Act, but this legislation still requires abuse to be reported and processed through the Canadian Criminal Code, which, as mentioned, has no specific elder abuse content.
Inspiring young advocate
This finding was one of the many reasons Mohnish decided to become an advocate for change and led him to stand before 130 seniors and speak passionately about protecting them, as he felt the laws are not doing enough.
Mohnish’s speech was compelling and inspiring, and his delivery rivaled that of many adult speakers I have heard. At the end of his speech it was suggested he take his message to the federal and provincial politicians, to which the seniors gave rousing applause.
Afterall, if a 12-year old child can read the facts and come to the obvious conclusion that not enough is being done to stop elder abuse, perhaps hearing the obvious from a 12-year old would inspire the politicians to address the issue, so Mohnish doesn’t have to spend his time doing it for them.
– Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge city councillor, school trustee, constituency assistant and citizen of the year and is president of Alouette River Management Society