An Empirical Examination of Elder Abuse: A Review of files from the Elder Abuse Section of the Ottawa Police Service

3. Results

As noted there were a total of 531 files examined for the study. Several files that were deemed not to fit the definition of elder abuse were excluded, as were several files that did not contain sufficient information for analysis. Taking into account those exclusions, the total number of files analyzed was 453.

In the following pages, the results of the analysis are presented. They are broken down into several sections starting with a profile of victims, a profile of those accused of elder abuse, and ending with details of investigations and case outcomes. Qualitative information from the interview with officers is included where appropriate throughout the analysis.

3.1 Profile of Victims

The majority of victims were female (70%) and Caucasian (93%). In addition, most victims were either widowed (69%) or married (20%) and the vast majority had children (98%). The average age of victims at the time of investigation was 80 (median age 81); while the minimum age was 49 and the maximum was 101.Footnote 12 While a large proportion of victims lived in a private home or apartment (58%), a substantial number were residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities (42%).

There were nine cases that involved more than one victim; however, for most of these there was only detailed information on file about one of the victims. Of these nine cases the number of victims ranged from 4 to 67, with an average number of 19.

Data on the relationship between the victim and accused showed some interesting differences between men and women. Overall, mothers were the most common victims (28%) followed by “no relationship”x (22%) and “other”t (18%). However, when broken down by sex, the data show that male accused were statistically significantly more likely to victimize family or friends, while female accused more often victimized those they cared for in a professional setting (Figure 1).

Figure 1: OPS Elder Abuse cases - Victim relationship to accused by sex of accused, 2005-2010

Figure 1: A chart representing the proportion of those accused of elder abuse reported to the Ottawa Police Service from 2005 to 2010 broken down by sex and the proportion of those victimized by elder abuse reported by the Ottawa Police Service from 2005 to 2010 broken down by sex

;N=422, X2 =38.703, p=.000

Figure 1 - Text equivalent

A vertical bar chart illustrates the most common relationship between the victim and the accused broken down by sex of the accused.  The Y axis is measured in percentages and increases in increments of 5 from 0 to 50.  The X axis lists the following relationship type between the victim and the accused from left to right: Mother, Other, No relationship, Friend/Acquaintance, Extended family, Father.  Overall, mothers were the most common victims (28% followed by “no relationship” (22%) and “other” (18%).  When broken down by sex, the data show that male accused were more likely to victimize family and friends, while female accused more often victimized those they cared for in a professional setting.  Source: Ottawa Police Service, Elder Abuse File Review, 2011.

  • t Other includes – paid home nurse, personal support worker, roommate, hospital nurse, etc.
  • x “no relationship” includes cases where an institution was being investigated for abuse.

3.2 Profile of Accused

Figure 2 shows the proportion of accused and victims by sex. For the accused, there was almost an even split, with slightly more female accused than males. In contrast, more than two thirds of victims were female.

Figure 2: OPS Elder Abuse Cases – Proportion of accused and victims by sex, 2005-2010

Figure 2: A vertical bar chart representing relationship between the victim and the accused in elder abuse cases reported to the Ottawa Police Service from 2005 to 2010 broken down by sex of the accused.

Figure 2 - Text equivalent

A vertical bar chart illustrates the proportion of accused and the proportion of victims of elder abuse reported by the Ottawa Police Service broken down by sex, 2005 to 2010.  A vertical bar chart illustrates the distribution of Canadian seniors by age and sex, 2006.  The Y axis is measured in percentages and increases in increments of 10 for 0 to 80.  The X axis lists the proportion of accused broken down by sex and the proportion of the victim broken down by sex.  Of the total number of cases reported to the Ottawa Police Services from 2005 to 2010, 48% of the accused were male, 52% of the accused were female and 30% of the victims were male and 70% of the victims were female. Source: Ottawa Police Service, Elder Abuse File review 2011.

The average age of accused in the year the case was investigated was 48 (median age 47). The age range was large, with the youngest accused being 17 years old and the oldest 89 years old.Footnote 13

The majority of accused were Caucasian (80%), 10% were black and 8% were Asian (south, east or west Asian). Almost half were single (43%), and 29% were married. A substantial proportion of the accused lived in a private home or apartment (88%), with the next highest proportion living in a nursing home or long-term care facility (6%) and 4% had no fixed address.

Figure 3 shows the most common occupation of the accused broken down by sex. Female accused were statistically significantly more likely to work in health-related occupations (42% versus 18%), while males were more likely to be in trades and transport (23% versus 1%).

Figure 3: OPS Elder Abuse Cases - Occupation of the accused by sex, 2005-2010

Figure 3: A vertical bar chart representing the most common occupation of the accused in elder abuse cases reported to the Ottawa Police Service from 2005 to 2010 broken down by sex.

N=349, X2 =66.462, p=.000

Figure 3 - Text equivalent

A vertical bar chart illustrates the most common occupation of accused in elder abuse cases reported by the Ottawa Police Services from 2005 to 2010 broken down by sex.  The Y axis is measured in percentages and increases in increments of 5 from 0 to 45.  The X axis lists the following occupation of the accused from left to right: unemployed, health, social science, sales and service, trades and transport and other.  Of the accused, 21% of the males were unemployed while 19% of the females were unemployed, 13% of males worked in health while 42% of females worked in health, 5% of males worked in social science while 2% of females worked in social science, 19% of both male and female accused worked in sales and services, 23% of males worked in trades and transport while 1% of females worked in trade and transport, and 20% of males worked in “other” while 17% of females worked in “other”. Source: Ottawa Police Service, Elder Abuse File Review, 2011.

Data were also collected on the mental health status of the accused, as well as any indication of a history of drug or alcohol abuse. A small proportion of accused were flagged as having a history of alcohol (15%)Footnote 14 or drug abuse (16%)Footnote 15, while 8% had both. Thirteen percent of accused were suspected to have mental health problems.Footnote 16 There were no significant differences in the occurrence of substance abuse or mental illness between males and females.

During the semi-structured interview officers from the Elder Abuse Section reported that in cases where the accused is a family member and suffers from mental health and drug or alcohol issues the victim is often reluctant to lay charges. In these cases, officers spend the majority of their time setting up social services referrals for both the victim and accused, rather than investigating the criminal aspects of the case. As one officer stated:

There is police persona attached to this work but that is not accurate in that the work we do is social work related because of the nature of the dynamics between the elderly and their care-givers or family members. If the victim is over 65 and if there is a relationship between the victim and abuser the elder abuse section is responsible for investigating and we end up investigating all forms of abuse, for example, physical, financial, psychological abuse, abuse in retirement/nursing homes, issues of neglect. We are juggling all these forms of abuse and this work is very, very time consuming.  It takes several weeks or months toinvestigate an elder abuse case and there is no cookie-cutter method of investigating elder abuse.

Files were also examined to determine if there had been a history of family violence in any of the cases of elder abuse (e.g., the elderly victim had been an abusive parent to the accused). Only one file showed a history of family violence. In the majority of files this information was not available (or not applicable). In addition, files were examined to determine if there was a power of attorney in place. Records showed the accused had power of attorney over the victim in 14% of cases.Footnote 17

3.3 Characteristics of Incidents

In over half of cases, there was a single incident being investigated (57%).Footnote 18 In almost a quarter (23%) of cases, there were two incidents being investigated, and in 9% of cases there were three incidents. In a small proportion of cases (5 out of 333) there were a substantial number of incidents, ranging from 10 to a high of 60 incidents. Of the cases that involved more than one incident, the timeframe of the reported abuse was typically less than a year. Almost a third spanned less than six months (27%), while 12% spanned six months to a year, and 13% spanned more than a year.

Figure 4 shows the locations of the incidents being investigated. The highest proportion of incidents took place at a nursing home (27%) followed by the victim’s private residence (25%) and a joint residence occupied by the victim and accused (23%). In the majority of cases (80%), there were no witnesses to the alleged incident(s).

Figure 4: OPS Elder Abuse Cases - Location of alleged incident, 2005-2010

Figure 4: A vertical bar chart representing the location of the alleged incident of elder abuse reported to the Ottawa Police Service from 2005 to 2010

N= 431, Other includes: hospital and workplace

Figure 4 - Text equivalent

A vertical bar chart illustrates the location of the alleged incident.  The Y axis is measured in percentages and increases in increments of 5 from 0 to 30. The X axis lists the following location of the alleged incident from left to right: victim’s private home, nursing home, joint residence, bank/ABM, long term care facility, other. The greatest proportion of alleged incidents occurred at a nursing home (27%), followed by victim’s private home (25%), joint residence (23%), the Bank/ABM (14%), long term care facility (6%), and other (4%). Source: Ottawa Police Service, Elder Abuse File Review, 2011.

Figure 5 details the type of abuse investigated, broken down by the sex of the victim. Overall, the most common type of abuse was financial (62%) with men being victimized more often than women. Within the category of financial abuse, there were two sub-categories – abuse where the victim was unaware and abuse by threats or intimidation. In almost half of cases victims were unaware that the financial abuse was occurring (48%). In a quarter of cases the financial abuse was done through threats or intimidation (25%), while the remaining cases of financial abuse were done via other means (26%). The most common scenarios under the ‘other’ category were the accused accepting large sums of money as gifts, failing to pay a victim’s rent and expenses, and stolen property (e.g., jewellery, money out of wallets, pension cheques).

The interviews revealed that in cases of financial abuse, abuse of power of attorney or abuse by a substitute decision-maker is common. Often, issues of privacy impede the officers’ abilities to gather pertinent information, particularly from banks, integral to investigations of alleged financial abuse. As one officer related, “I worked on a financial elder abuse case where the bank watched the depletion of three savings accounts to the tune of $1.2 million and did nothing to stop it. The banks were not willing to share information because of privacy concerns. It requires time, persistence and creativity to investigate each of these cases.”

The next most common type of cases investigated were allegations of verbal abuse (41%), with women being victimized only slightly more often than men. Physical abuse was present in 37% of cases, with women being victimized more often (40% vs. 30%). Among cases of physical abuse that were investigated, 39% of victims received minor, untreated injuries, while 19% were treated and released, and 3% required a more extended stay in hospital (37% reported no injuries).Footnote 19 Sexual abuse made up a very small proportion of the incidents investigated (3%), with women being victimized more often than men.

Figure 5: OPS Elder Abuse Cases - Type of abuse by sex of victim, 2005-2010

Figure 5: A vertical bar chart representing the type of elder abuse by the sex of the victim as reported to the Ottawa Police Service from 2005 to 2010.

N=440, * = p<.05

Figure 5 - Text equivalent

A vertical bar chart illustrates type of abuse sex of the victim. The Y axis is measured in percentages and increases in increments of 10 from 0 to 80. The X axis lists the following type of abuse from left to right: financial, verbal, physical, and sexual. Family and friends were more often victims of financial abuse, while those in non-familial relationships suffered physical abuse more often. While parents were victims of verbal abuse most often, the prevalence of verbal abuse in non-family relationships was also relatively high. Source: Ottawa Police Service, Elder Abuse File Review, 2011.

Table 1 shows the type of abuse broken down by the relationship between victim and accused. These data show that family and friends/acquaintances were more often victims of financial abuse, while those in non-familial relationships suffered physical abuse more often. While parents were victims of verbal abuse most often, the prevalence of verbal abuse in non-family relationships was also relatively high.

Table 1: Type of abuse by victim-accused relationshipFootnote 20
Victim relationship with accused
No relationship Mother Father Extended family Friend/acquaintance Other Total
Financial Abuse 34 (35%) 88 (73%) 25 (74%) 29 (78%) 48 (87%) 48 (62%) 272
Physical Abuse 56 (58%) 40 (33%) 10 (29%) 11 (30%) 3 (6%) 37 (48%) 157
Sexual Abuse 3 (3%) 1 (1%) 0 (--) 0 (--) 5 (9%) 4 (5%) 13
Verbal Abuse 32 (33%) 76 (63%) 17 (50%) 12 (32%) 10 (18%) 31 (40%) 178

In 37% of cases, there was more than one type of abuse associated with the investigation. Of these, 83% involved two of the four types of abuse, and 17% involved three of the four types. There were no cases that involved all four types of abuse.

3.4 Characteristics of Investigations

Files were examined to determine if there were any barriers identified by police during the course of their investigations. In about half of cases, there were no barriers identified. Of those cases that did have barriers, mental health issues were the most commonly identified (55%), followed by victim fear in 16% of cases (Figure 6). Of the cases that were identified as having mental health barriers, in almost three quarters of these cases, dementia or Alzheimer’s were identified. Other barriers identified by police included the victim being deceased, or the victim being paralyzed or otherwise immobile.

Figure 6: OPS Elder Abuse Cases – Police-identified barriers to the investigation, 2005-2010

Figure 6: A horizontal bar chart representing the type of barriers to the investigation of elder abuse reported to the Ottawa Police Service from 2005 to 2010

N=176

Figure 6 - Text equivalent

A horizontal bar chart illustrates type of barriers to the investigation. The X axis is measured in percentages and increases in increments of 10 from 0 to 60. The Y axis lists the following types of barriers to the investigation from bottom to top: mental health issues, victim fear, other, language difficulties, physical disability, victim shame, and cultural barriers.  Of those cases that did have barriers, mental health issues were the most commonly indentified (55%), followed by victim fear (16%), other (11%), language difficulties (7%), physical disability (6), victim shame (3%), and cultural barriers (2%). Source: Ottawa Police Service, Elder Abuse File Review, 2011.

Out of the 453 files analysed, charges were laid in 77, or 17% of cases. Figure 7 outlines the most serious offences by broad categories, showing that almost half of cases (48%) involved offences against the rights of property. Looking at the specific offences within those broader categories, the most serious offence was most often fraud (steal, forge, possess or using a credit card) in 16% of cases, followed by assault level I (14%).

Figure 7: OPS Elder Abuse Cases – Most Serious Offence Category, 2005-2010

Figure 7: A horizontal bar chart representing the most serious offence category of elder abuse cases reported to the Ottawa Police Service from 2005 to 2010

N=77

Figure 7 - Text equivalent

A horizontal bar chart illustrates the most serious offence category.  The X axis is measured in percentages and increases in increments of 10 from 0 to 60.  The Y axis lists the following types of offence categories from bottom to top: offences against the rights of property, offences against the person, fraudulent transactions, proceeds of crime, administration of justice offences, wilful and forbidden acts (property).  Almost half of all cases in which charges were laid involved offences against the rights of property (48%), followed by offences against the person (35%), fraudulent transactions (6%), proceeds of crime (4%), administration of justice offences (4%) and wilful and forbidden acts (property) (3%). Source: Ottawa Police Service, Elder Abuse File Review, 2011.

Of those cases where charges were not laid, the most common reason was a lack of evidence (33%). In almost a quarter of cases, the victim refused to cooperate with police (Figure 8). Officers noted that maintaining family relationships, fears and anxieties about institutionalization and loss of independence, factors including financial dependency, disability or illness are all possible explanations for the small proportion of elder abuse cases resulting in charges. One officer stated:

The elderly are hesitant to lay charges against their children and as a result police spend a large amount of time walking elders through the importance of reporting the abuse and the benefits of accessing available services available to children who are abusive.

Additionally, the officers indicated that because the elderly are hesitant to report incidents of abuse the officers often must, “rely on information from a third party, who is not attached to the situation.” Officers indicate this process is time consuming as all information must be verified before it is deemed reliable.

Figure 8: OPS Elder Abuse Cases – Reason no charges were laid, 2005-2010

Figure 8: A horizontal bar chart representing the reasons no charges were laid in elder abuse cases reported to the Ottawa Police Service from 2005 to 2010

N=364, Other includes: incident resolved

Figure 8 - Text equivalent

A horizontal bar chart illustrates the most reasons no charges were laid. The X axis is measured in percentages and increases in increments of 5 from 0 to 35. The Y axis lists the following reasons no charges were laid from bottom to top: not enough evidence, victim refused to cooperate, incident unfounded, follow-up required, incident not criminal, other. Source: Ottawa Police Service, Elder Abuse File Review, 2011. Of those cases where charges were not laid, the most common reason was a lack of evidence (335), followed by victim refused to cooperate (24%), incident unfounded (16%), follow-up required (12%), incident not criminal (10%), other (5%).

In cases where no charges were laid and other specific actions were taken, police referred the victim to social services (48%), victim services or other support groups (11%) (Table 2).

Table 2: Other action taken by police
  # of cases Percent of total
Referred to other social services 67 48%
Other 58 41%
Referred to victim services, support groups 15 11%
Total 140 100.0%

Other includes: verbal warning to accused, civil or POA advice provided, safety advice provided.

N/A = 297, missing= 16

Of the cases where charges were laid, the vast majority (96%) went to court (2 out of 75 did not, 1 was stayed).Footnote 21 Table 3 shows the outcome of cases that went to court. Over half (65%) of accused plead guilty or were found guilty following trial.

Table 3: Court case outcomes
  # of cases Percent of total
Guilty following trial 36 58%
Withdrawn 14 23%
Dismissed 5 8%
Accused plead guilty 4 7%
Stay 2 3%
Not guilty 1 2%
Total 62 100.0%

15 missing or unknown.

Of the 40 offenders who plead guilty or were found guilty, the majority received probation (22/40 cases), followed by custody (9/40) and a conditional sentence (6/40). One of these offenders received a conditional discharge and one received an intermittent sentence.Footnote 22 In addition, a total of 13 peace bonds were handed out for those cases that were stayed, withdrawn or dismissed (11 of these peace bonds were for withdrawn cases).

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