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Abuse by Carers


Generally speaking, much has been done by all the stakeholders in care environments to provide the best possible quality of service and keep both staff and clients safe. However, one ugly phenomenon that keeps turning up from time to time is abuse. While it may appear easy to point out the nature of abuse, the reason behind it is often complex and a manifestation of many different things. More often than not, the victims of such abuse are usually the vulnerable; children, people with disability and the aged. That is not to say that caregivers do not suffer their fair share of abuse.


What Exactly Is Abuse?

In Australia, and most societies, abuse has transcended the basic idea of physical abuse and in the process, making room for more complex forms such as: financial abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and so on.

Neglect is yet another term that often comes up when abuse is involved. Australia’s Elder Abuse Prevention unite describes neglect as, “the failure of a carer to provide the necessities of life to a person for whom they are caring”. Unintentional neglect happens when a caregiver genuinely lacks the necessary skills and knowledge to handle a person in need of care while intentional neglect occurs when a caregiver deprives a person in need of care of their essential needs such as: shelter, clothing, medication, food and hygiene.


Types of Abuse

The several types of abuse as defined in the Australian care context are as follows:

Physical Abuse

This is the infliction of injury, pain or physical coercion.

  • Signs:
    • Broken or healing bones
    • Lacerations
    • Burns
    • Internal and external injuries
  • Behaviours:
    • Kicking, hitting, slapping, biting and punching
    • Rough handling, pushing and shoving
    • Overuse or misuse of medication
    • Restraining


Emotional / Psychological Abuse

This is the infliction of mental stress involving actions and threats that cause isolation, fear of violence, deprivation and feelings of shame and powerlessness.

  • Signs:
    • Unusual passivity
    • Depression
    • Resignation
    • Sadness or grief
    • Social isolation
    • Withdrawal
  • Behaviours:
    • Bullying, pressuring or intimidating
    • Verbal abuse
    • Threatening harm
    • Prevention of social contact
    • Emotional blackmail


Financial / Economic Abuse

This is the illegal or improper use of a care client’s finances and/or property.

  • Signs:
    • Inability to pay bills
    • Unexplained disappearance of belongings
    • Inability to access bank accounts or statements
    • Changes to wills
    • Significant bank withdrawals
    • Disparity between living conditions and wealth
  • Behaviours:
    • Abuse of powers of attorney
    • Unauthorized use of financial records
    • Stealing
    • Recent addition / changes to financial documents


Sexual Abuse

This refers to sexually abusive or exploitative behaviours that range from sexual harassment to indecent assault and rape.

  • Signs:
    • Unexplained STD
    • Torn or bloody underclothing
    • Bleeding in the genitals
    • Trauma
    • Anxiety around perpetrator
  • Behaviours:
    • Non-consensual sexual contact
    • Unwarranted sexual language and exploitative behaviour
    • Enforced nudity of an older person


Ways to Prevent Abuse

There are certain actions you can take to prevent or reduce instances of abuse by carers. Consider the following:

  • Avoid isolating care recipients
  • Stay in touch as often as possible
  • Keep the care recipients active
  • Encourage them to participate in their community and social circles
  • Don’t allow them to live with someone who is a known abuser
  • Encourage their independence

If you or someone you love is concerned that they have become a victim of abuse, discuss with a trusted family member or friend about the next steps.

(Cover Photo: Sydney Sims) 
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