Research by the charity has shown that the Criminal Justice System is constantly failing to deliver justice to older people who are increasingly experiencing terrible abuse, theft and neglect at the hands of perpetrators who routinely ‘get away with it’. The charity says “the Criminal Justice system is failing to protect older victims of abuse and neglect. Most cases are never prosecuted – and many should be – and police cautions are used as a cheap and easy way of avoiding the time and cost of prosecution (these are not criminal convictions). And even when cases are taken to court the result is invariably a suspended sentence or community service. When is this going to end?”
Following a series of Freedom of Information requests, AEA learned that most agencies, including the police, the courts system, and the Ministry of Justice, fail to keep any significant records of the experiences of older people, with one force who did provide information admitting that it investigated 76 cases in a year and issued a police caution in each case. Not one reached court, so none of the perpetrators received a criminal conviction.
In its report the charity catalogues 23 cases of elder abuse where not one culprit received a custodial sentence, despite the terrible circumstances of the abuse.
“Whether it is a 71-year-old man beaten so badly that his jaw required wiring, or the couple torn apart by abuse after 63 years of marriage – and dying apart – or the man so badly neglected in a care home that visitors were overcome by urine and faeces, the sentence is still suspended, or community service. It doesn’t matter if the victim is 87-years-old and slapped around, it doesn’t matter if the abuse destroys the older person’s life, and it doesn’t even matter if there is video evidence of the callous nature of the abusers; the perpetrators never receive the sentence that the public expect and demand,” said Gary FitzGerald, Chief Executive of AEA.
The new aggravated offence will cover physical, sexual, financial and psychological abuse, and neglect, with statutory minimum sentences for perpetrators, which courts may extend when necessary, as well as a requirement for mandatory reporting of suspected elder abuse.
“Elder abuse is a crime,” said Gary FitzGerald, “and its long overdue for it to be treated as one. The UK has slipped far behind other countries in this regard, and we are allowing perpetrators to act with impunity. This has to stop. We have to send a clear message to these people that crimes against older people will no longer be tolerated or treated leniently.”
“I have no doubt that the Government will argue that we already have enough laws.” continued FitzGerald. “But they didn’t argue that about racially or religiously motivated crimes, that’s why we have the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. And I am sure they will argue that a crime of elder abuse risks belittling the ability of most older people to protect themselves. But they don’t argue that when they talk about domestic abuse or racial abuse, where they are motivated to bring in additional aggravated crimes. It’s time they stopped treating our elderly, frail mums and dads as second class citizens.”
The charity has noted that, in the UK, between 500,000 and 800,000 older people are abused in their own homes each year; for comparison, the NSPCC estimates 400,000 children face abuse each year. In 2013/14 there were 28,000 cases substantiated by adult protection teams of what are crimes against older people in England, but only 3,317 referrals (11.8%) by the police to the CPS (England and Wales). Sexual abuse accounted for 5.3% of abuse cases referred to adult protection, but only 1.9% of sexual offences were prosecuted.