Elderly abuse is a prevalent issue in our communities, often kept silent. It involves intentionally causing harm or endangering older adults. The abuse can be carried out by a caregiver or someone close to the elder, like a family member, neighbour, or someone from the community.

By Vateka Halile

It is heartbreaking to witness elderly people being victimised, particularly in rural areas, and being falsely labelled as baloyi/amagqwirha due to their age-related illnesses or schizophrenia.

We need to condemn any sort of abuse

According to Zintle Khobeni-De Lange, the founder of The Great People of South Africa, it is incumbent upon our society to safeguard the rights of our elderly population due to the prevalence of abuse.

“While facilitating a community outreach programme in one of the marginalised communities we work in, I encountered an elderly woman who came to the group counselling session. She shared a horrific story of sexual abuse that she had experienced while living alone in the Eastern Cape,”  revealedKhobeni-De Lange

Khobeni-De Lange says the elderly woman described how a young man from next door had repeatedly raped her, and then she took off her doek and revealed the scars on her head.

“The rapist abused her, beat her, and threatened to kill her if she ever spoke about the rape.”

She reminds us not to abandon our gogos and mkhulus, and not to leave them unattended because they are vulnerable. We must take care of them, pleads Khobeni-De Lange.

What does elder abuse look like from a broader perspective?

According to Femada Shamam, the CEO of The Association for The Aged (Tafta), abuse is a pressing issue that is frequently concealed due to the fear victims have in reporting their abusers.

“The more vocal and open we become to discussing and addressing issues of elder abuse, the more comfortable elders become to report acts of harm and neglect inflicted against them.”

“Many male elders have come forward to report acts of financial abuse, physical harm and neglect from their primary caregivers. For elders living in the community or private residences, their primary caregivers are often members of their family or close relations that are entrusted with the responsibility of their care. This is often the reason for lack of reporting, as victims often feel the need to protect those that are meant to care for them,” explains Shamam.

“Although our efforts to reach elders within the community are extensive, we still rely on the assistance of those who have access to information to share that information with those who need it.”

Let’s put an end to the stigma surrounding illnesses that affect the elderly!

Shamam has identified some instances of elderly abuse:

Physical abuse: An act which results in injury or death of an older person through the use of any physical means such as hitting, shaking, pushing, rough handling, cutting and slapping.

Financial abuse: The illegal improper use of an older person’s property or finances like control over personal finances.

Sexual abuse: An act which results in the exploitation of an older person for sexual or erotic gratification without knowledge, understanding and consent.

Psychological abuse: This type of abuse is a pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards an older person, which results in impaired psychological and or emotional functioning. Like rejection, isolation or oppression, etc.

Intimidation: An utterance or conveyance of threat to an older person which is likely to induce fear, thereby forcing them to do something against their will.

Violation of human rights: This is the denial of fundamental rights. E.g., dignity, speech, expression, access to information, etc.

Victimisation: Older persons displaying many characteristics of illnesses associated with ageing such as the illness dementia can be incorrectly perceived as persons participating in witchcraft; this may result in stigmatisation, exclusion, physical harm, damage to their property and death.

Get support

Tafta achieves its goal of being at the forefront of creative solutions for the elderly by launching initiatives and providing services that safeguard and advance the fundamental rights of elderly people.  

“We encourage the general public to offer support to elders in need, either by recognising the signs of elder abuse and reporting it to Tafta – or by sharing the toll-free number 0800 10 11 10 with an elder who may be in an abusive situation,” concludes Shamam. – healthformzansi.co.za

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