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Helping prevent elder abuse in CALD communities
A sad and shocking reality for many older members from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities in Australia is the experience of elder abuse.
To raise awareness of this issue and offer advice to those suffering, a workshop event was held for members of the Indian Senior Citizens Association (ISCA) to coincide with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 25 June. Funded by a grant from the Victoria Law Foundation, the “Matter of Trust” workshop was organised by Jacqui D’Silva (Program Coordinator at Eastern Community Legal Centre, ECLC), Dr Inderjit Jasal (Vice President of ISCA), award winning community volunteer and financial expert Dilnaz Billimoria, and Anand Shome of IndianCare.
The workshop included a role-play scenario and presentations by several agencies including Centrelink, Victoria Police, Department of Justice, Eastern Community Legal Centre and Ringwood Family Relationship Centre.
The need for greater awareness of elder abuse in CALD communities was first raised some years ago by Leigh Gilmore, the Senior Sheriff’s Officer of the Department of Justice, who noted increasing evictions of older people from their homes.
Dilnaz Billimoria explains how older couples will often sell their homes and businesses to come and live with their adult children, frequently to help them out, financially.
“They shift their lives. They find that initially it’s all great…and [then] they’re finding that suddenly things have changed.”
The younger couple asks them to help pay for a second mortgage. Or help them start a business.
“You’ll be shocked, the parents do it all the time,” she says. “Then, when things go bust and they can’t pay, the bank says, ‘Sorry, but you’re the guarantor’.”
And it’s not just financial abuse. Elders, even ones that have been in Australia for a number of years, can be physically and emotionally bullied, isolated without means of transport, and even locked in the home.
There is a cultural dimension to the way abused Indian elders might view their situation. “A lot of Indian senior citizens, even though they’re suffering, believe that this is part of their karma and they actually accept it,” Billimoria says.
The response to the workshop from the audience of around 50 Indian senior citizens was, Billimoria says, “absolutely amazing”.
“Initially they were aghast to know that this was happening, but about 50 per cent of them knew it was happening to a “friend” – perhaps themselves – and they had so many questions as to what they can do to stop it.”
There are various services and organisations available to help the elderly who find themselves in such a situation. There are Family Mediation Services, which are free of charge and provide quick appointments to help facilitate discussion among family members. The ECLC provides free appointments with lawyers, and every police station in Victoria now has family violence, youth and multicultural resources. Billimoria emphasises that the police are trained and equipped to help with this issue at every level, confidentially if necessary. “The intention is to get everyone to work together,” she says.
For older people, there is no need to fear being kicked out of your house or prevented from seeing grandchildren or other members of the family, regardless of what your visa status is or who owns the house you’re living in. Moreover, as explained in the workshop, those on a Dependent Visa can still access Centrelink services.
All Australian government agencies can provide free translation interpretation services, as well as confidential meetings. There is also short-term emergency housing available.
But, as Dilnaz Billimoria says, don’t let it get to that stage. Take control. Don’t give away all your money. Make a will. Have an executor. Talk to someone.
“Someone at the event came up with the phrase, ‘It’s karma versus kartha’. There are some senior citizens who are realising, ‘I’m not going tolerate this rubbish and I’m going to take action’.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, please call the confidential Senior Rights Helpline on 1300 368 821, 10am-5pm, Monday-Friday or visit www.seniorsonline.vic.gov.au