Elder abuse awareness highlighted on June 15

International day provides a chance to open the conversation


The BC Association of Community Response Networks is asking people to wear purple on June 15 to acknowledge their support for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

The international symbol for the day is the purple iris. Wearing purple is a way to bring visibility to a complex issue that is often overlooked.

A Community Response Network is a diverse network of concerned community members, businesses and agencies, including local health authorities, who come together to create a coordinated response to provide help for adults experiencing or at risk of experiencing abuse, neglect and self-neglect. Salt Spring Island Community Services acts as the Salt Spring CRN’s host agency.

Local coordinator Shamana Ali helped raise awareness for 2019’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by creating an information display at the Saturday Market. Although she was hoping to have an event at the library this year, new rules around distancing have forced a change in plans.

“I got into a lot of really awesome conversations last year at the market with people who felt they were on the edge,” Ali said. “What I find is, when you get the conversation going, people are more likely to see the signs of elder abuse, because it’s so subtle.”

Ali said because elder abuse often takes place within intimate or family relationships — the abuser may be the elder’s main contact to the outside world — it can be hard for others to know what’s going on.

The manifestation of abuse can be more insidious than obvious. It can take the form of violence or aggression, but it can also be emotional and psychological. Financial exploitation seems to be more commonly associated with it than with other types of abuse.

Ali, who has worked for many years as an activist against discriminations such as racism and homophobia, said elder abuse is in fact the most complicated issue she has tackled.

“It seems what you might notice in elder abuse is not the presence, but the absence of something,” she said, adding this could mean a senior is suddenly not showing up to events that he or she used to attend regularly, or they’re no longer spending the same $20 on a regular purchase.

Recognizing elder abuse is complicated by the fact that the victims involved are going through a life-stage that calls their very experience into question. They are aging and vulnerable and may also have forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s or mental illness.

“You might not be believed or your credibility is questioned,” Ali said. “So opening the conversations about it is the most important step. It’s an ‘it takes a community or village’ kind of thing.”

Whether under-reported or unnoticed, elder abuse can be a serious issue in communities where the population is aging. Ali notes the Vital Signs report compiled by the Salt Spring Foundation in 2017 found 50 per cent of the local population are seniors. But it can impact anywhere.

“Regardless of how the demographics roll out in your particular community, it is a vulnerable population,” Ali said. “Everyone should be able to live freely without neglect or abuse.”

Another concern is that with people forced to stay home during COVID-19 restrictions, there has been a documented increase in cases of domestic abuse in general, while the usual checks and balances may not be in place.

“Sharing homes, these issues tend to unfortunately come out. That’s why it’s good to raise awareness,” Ali said.

The CRN wants people to know there is help available. VictimLinkBC provides information and referral services to all victims of crime and immediate crisis support to victims of family and sexual violence. Call 1-800-563-0808 toll-free or email VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca for confidential assistance by trained victim service workers. Multilingual support is available in 150 different languages. 

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