Judith Davey 20/12/2021
“Strategy” can be defined as the “art of directing large military movements”, but it has become the name for government reports on major policy areas in need of renewal. Although it is not exactly a military challenge, the prevention of family and sexual violence (FVSV) is certainly a major social issue that requires action in many sectors of society.
The strategy, with the Maori title Te Aorerekura – the enduring spirit of affection, was launched at the Te Papa marae on 7th December. I was a member of the “independent advisors” group, intended to speak up for older people, drawing on my over 20 years of research on the wellbeing of older people and its policy implications, as well as my own great age!
I soon found that my terminology differed from that of the other advisors. We tend to talk about ’elder abuse” rather than violence against older people. Elder abuse tends to involve mainly financial and psychological abuse rather than physical violence. And the latter is what people tend to think of when FV/SV are mentioned. Financial and psychological abuse, and also coercive control, do not figure highly in Te Aorerekura, although I would maintain that the harm they cause is as destructive as violence. Although family members figure significantly as perpetrators, policies to prevent elder abuse need to involve sectors such as financial and care services, scammers and fraudsters.
Elder abuse is mentioned very rarely in the report. The report’s glossary defines elder abuse and neglect as “physical, sexual, or psychological/ emotional abuse and violence towards an older person, financial abuse, and/or not meeting the older person’s basic physical, emotional and medical needs”. In a statement of the prevalence is the assertion that “one in ten older people will experience some kind of elder abuse”, but no evidence or references are suggested.
The dream and vision (Moemoea) of Te Aorerekura is that “all people in Aotearoa/New Zealand are thriving; their wellbeing is enhanced and sustained because they are safe and supported to live their lives free from family violence and sexual violence” a great and commendable aim. It is a realistic document, detailing the shocking extent of violence in our society and recognising that it will take a generation of sustained investment and focus to strengthen protective factors and enable the social changes required – hence the 25-year scope of the report.
“Older people” as a demographic group are mentioned 23 times in the report, as one of the communities which need special preventive action, support, specialist healing, and restorative services. These communities are specified as women, and men, impacted by violence, people who use or have used violence, tangata whenua, Pacific peoples, children and young people, LGBTQIA+ (“rainbow” communities), older people, disabled people and ethnic communities. Older people are given a little more attention in two places. Firstly, in the section where the needs and aspirations of these communities are considered separately and presented in the first person (page 20).
The violence we experience is often not visible because of our poor health or disability, or being dependent on others for our care or our social isolation. Sometimes society doesn’t respect us. We need people to acknowledge and understand the specific violence that happens to us. We need services we can navigate, with all healthcare workers and other frontline services able to notice signs of our abuse or neglect, and able to respond safely. Promoting our wellbeing includes addressing ageism, involvement in family and community, access to transport, and fostering intergenerational relationships. We want to build understanding of legal protections including Enduring Power of Attorney, advanced directives, and capacity assessments, so they’re not misused.
Secondly, when specifying the third of six “shifts” which are needed to achieve the aims of the strategy – Towards skilled, culturally competent and sustainable workforces – a question is posed – “How will this change impact older people?”
Older people can experience violence that is not visible because of social isolation, lack of understanding about elder abuse, and a lack of care/respect of older people that means their concerns are minimised or ignored. Elder abuse happens across all genders, religions, ethnicities and income groups. It may happen at home, in residential care, or in hospitals. Abuse is usually at the hands of a family member or a person of trust. The impact on the older person can be significant. Government actions to increase training about family violence and sexual violence will mean healthcare workers and other frontline services are able to notice signs of abuse or neglect of older people and respond safely. Publicly available resources that increase awareness and education of the specific violence that happens to older people (for example, financial and psychological abuse) will help make elder abuse more visible and help to prevent it.
Both these sections are well stated and identify salient issues related to elder abuse. But there is no mention of older people in the other shifts required –
- Towards strength-based wellbeing – changing social conditions, structures and norms that perpetuate harm
- Towards mobilising communities
- Towards investment in primary prevention –a recent announcement of funding included older people’s communities
- Towards safe, accessible and integrated responses.
- Towards increased capacity for healing.
All these could be applied in the elder abuse area. But this needs more attention than is given in Te Aorerekura. Perhaps we should be calling for a strategy for the prevention of elder abuse.
 According to Māori lore, Aorere is a cluster of stars that navigates humankind to gain knowledge and comprehension. Aorere transmits healing energy through the whatumanawa (supreme subconscious) to restore balance and harmony to all aspects of a person’s toiora (enduring).