Neglectful to the point of cruelty? Elder abuse and the rights of older persons in Australia

Wendy Lacey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Australia’s ageing population is growing and so too is the number of older persons who experience abuse. Divorce, ill-health, disability, the death of a partner, dependency, poverty, social isolation, gender, and even the accumulation of assets, can heighten a person’s vulnerability to abuse — physical, social, sexual , psychological, financial or neglect. Addressing elder abuse from a legal and policy perspective is not, however, simple. Perceived Commonwealth dominance in the ageing portfolio, despite the lack of a comprehensive legislative mandate to safeguard older Australians; a lack of innovative legal reform at the state level; ageism; the invisibility of our older people; a lack of awareness within the community of both the prevalence, nature and the signs of elder abuse; together with the absence of an international normative framework for protecting the rights of older persons, have together created a situation where elder abuse is simply not widely acknowledged as a serious issue in Australia and is inadequately addressed under existing laws. This article examines the current legal situation in Australia and calls for a collaborative national strategy for preventing and responding to elder abuse, incorporating a rights-based approach to the review and reform of state and territory laws. Recognising that elder abuse involves the denial of a person’s basic human rights, including the right to live free from abuse, exploitation or neglect, this article calls for a national inquiry into elder abuse by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-130
Number of pages32
JournalThe Sydney Law Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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