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Spotlight on reporting of elder abuse

Nurses and carers are being called on to share their experiences of reporting suspected cases of elder abuse for an Australian first research project, writes Linda Belardi.

An Australian first study is investigating the under-researched field of elder abuse, which researchers say lags 30 years behind research and policy development in child abuse and domestic violence.

Linda Starr, a PhD student from the school of nursing and midwifery at Flinders University, said most of the evidence collected in this area had come from the US.

The study will form the basis of recommendations to improve the reporting of elder abuse for staff and the effectiveness of the system for the elderly.

Registered nurses, enrolled nurses and personal carers working in aged care facilities are being asked to share their experiences of identifying and reporting elder abuse as compelled under the Aged Care Act.

The research aims to identify the facilitators and barriers for nurses to identify abuse and make a report. To date, researchers are yet to explore the factors that contribute to the successful prosecution of elder abuse cases in residential aged care, said Starr.

Starr said memory loss, illness or disability were significant issues which meant that a victim would be unable to testify.

Starr is keen to explore whether inadequate documentation practices within aged care facilities could be hampering the prosecution of a case

“A lack of knowledge of what evidence is and how this should be collected, preserved and documented has led to prosecutors not being able to trial cases leaving perpetrators of abuse unaccountable for their actions,” she said.

Starr will also explore the experience of investigating officers and police to better understand the hidden phenomenon of elder abuse in Australia. This part of her research will help identify the strengths or weaknesses of the reports and the impact on the capacity of police to investigate and prosecute these cases.

“The aim of the research is to identify what were the ‘bridges’ or good aspects of the experience that facilitated [a nurse or carer] recognising abuse and making the report and what were the ‘barriers - the aspects that impeded or made it difficult for someone to identify abuse and make the report,” she said.

In 2007, the Commonwealth government introduced reporting laws for actual or suspected cases of elder abuse.

In the first year of mandatory reporting there were 925 reports made; 725 for alleged unreasonable force and 200 alleged unlawful sexual assault. In the following year, the number of reports rose to 1,411 alleged assaults. However it is unknown how many of these reports were substantiated cases of elder abuse.

Starr said few charges have ever been laid and even fewer convictions made.

For more information or to participate in the study which has received ethics approval; contact Linda Starr at [email protected] or on (08) 8201 3340 or 0427234203.

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