Crime and Abuse Against Seniors:
A Review of the Research Literature With Special Reference to the Canadian Situation

1. BACKGROUND

According to Statistics Canada's 2004 General Social Survey, 10 percent of Canadian seniors—about one-half million individuals 65 years of age and over—are victims of crime each year (Ogrodnick, 2007). This figure is likely just a fraction of all those who experience some form of crime or abuse each year. Abuse can be physical, emotional, or financial and can be a crime under the Criminal Code if it takes the form of fraud, assault, sexual assault, uttering threats, criminal harassment.

Due to the extent of the problem and serious consequences for the well-being of seniors, the topic of elder abuse has received increasing attention over the last decade. There has been a growing body of academic and government reports on the issue1. In addition, several federal and provincial government committees have been established and a number of conferences have been organized on the subject.

In March 2007, the federal government established the National Seniors Council2 to offer advice to the government on matters of national importance to seniors. Among the first priorities was to raise awareness of and combat elder abuse. In December 2007, the Council released the Report of the National Seniors Council on Elder Abuse that suggested partnerships be established to focus on elder abuse initiatives. Subsequently, in the spring of 2009, the federal government announced the Federal Elder Abuse initiative (FEA) which is designed to help seniors and others recognize the signs and symptoms of elder abuse and to provide information on available resources. Activities under the Initiative will be coordinated interdepartmentally and involve the Department of Justice Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, under the leadership of Human Resources and Social Development Canada.

The objectives of the FEA are as follows:

  • Raise public awareness of elder abuse through a national campaign—especially seniors and their families, as well as professional groups working with seniors; and
  • Ensure the availability of appropriate information resources related to elder abuse and tools for frontline workers.

Elder abuse is recognized as a pervasive and growing problem, meriting the attention of clinicians, family members and professional groups who provide care and services to seniors. There is no universally accepted definition of elder abuse. Definitions of elder abuse usually focus on a range of harmful activities, from the physical assault of elders and "conventional" forms of family violence, to neglect of elders in institutions and in the community.

The published work on elder abuse is complex and sometimes contradictory. Operational definitions vary across studies. Also, while some studies focus on the prevalence of victimization, others examine the incidence of elder abuse. Statistics Canada and other agencies have made a number of attempts to measure the phenomenon. These attempts have been challenged by issues relating to the definition of abuse.

The principal aim of this study was to present and analyze the most recent Canadian research on the subject of elder abuse, with a focus on issues such as the prevalence of crime and abuse against seniors, the types of victimization they experience, the reporting of crimes committed against seniors, factors that place them at risk, the consequences of crime and abuse, and the precautions taken by seniors to avoid victimization. Seminal research in other countries was also included in this review. This review also sought to identify those crimes to which seniors were especially vulnerable (targeted crimes) and the gaps in the body of research dealing with crimes against seniors. Finally, this report examined the World Health Organization's definition of elder abuse.


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