What Is Elder Abuse?
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Often seniors are reluctant to report abuse to the police or other authorities. The following is a list of reasons that create barriers to reporting:
Many times people do not know who to make the report to
There are other reasons why service providers may not report elder abuse:
Yes. Everyone has a role to play to assist someone they suspect is being abused. You may think another person has already made a report or spoken to the senior, but this may not have happened. Many people are reluctant to get involved in other people’s affairs however it is important to reach out to seniors to ask if there is a problem and/or report it to the appropriate authorities when appropriate.
Contact the older adult, either by going to their home or calling to ask if he/she is ok or needs help. If the senior is not capable of getting help or does not have the mental capacity to make a report or call for assistance, then call the police or other support agencies to report the situation. Providing as much information to the authorities/agencies can help in their response plan to assist the senior. There are helplines to call to locate agencies and support services in your area including the Seniors Safety Line (1-866-299-1011).
If you are worried about their safety or have seen changes occurring over a period of time which are causing you concern, you should reach out. You can provide them with information regarding their rights or agencies that can assist them. If they are not ready to address the situation, offer your personal support until they are ready to take action. Providing help early can reduce further incidents of elder abuse and minimize the impact of abuse on the older adult.
It is important to remember if the senior is mentally capable he/she has the right to live at risk, refuse help and make their own decisions. Even if you do not agree with the decision and/or lack of action, you have to respect that seniors have rights. This can often be hard to accept, knowing you want the senior to live in a safe and healthy environment. However seniors have the right to choose to live with risk.
If the senior does not want help dealing with the abuse, which can happen, you can still help by staying in contact through visiting or phoning; offering to take them on outings to maintain social connections; offering to run errands (e.g. grocery shopping) and/or offering to assist them in contacting people with whom they have lost touch. You can also provide information about local support services such as home care services including home cleaning and meals on wheels that can help the senior stay at home and live independently.
A listing of contact information for your local Community Care Access Centre can be found at www.ccac-ont.ca
The Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat’s ‘A Guide to Programs and Services for Seniors in Ontario’ is also available at www.ontarioseniors.ca
Reporting elder abuse is mandatory when an older adult resides in a Long-Term Care Home or a Retirement Home and elder abuse is suspected or has occurred. The law requires reporting by anyone who knows or has reasonable grounds to suspect that a resident has been, or might be, harmed by any of the following:
This obligation to report applies to everyone except residents of the home. Members of regulated health care professions, social workers, and naturopaths must report even if the information is otherwise confidential.
Older adults with developmental disabilities are also protected with mandatory reporting legislation. Agencies providing services and supports to persons with developmental disabilities are mandated to immediately report the alleged, suspected or witnessed incident of abuse to the police as it may constitute a criminal offence.
If the victim lives in their own home or in any other setting, the law does not require anyone to report the abuse. In some cases, reporting might be required by someone’s employment duties, a contract for services, or a professional code of ethics.
Long Term Care ACTION Line: If you suspect or have evidence that elder abuse is taking place in the Long-Term Care Home it is mandatory to report it with the exception of residents themselves (who have a choice in the matter). The Long-Term Care Homes Act (s.24) states if a person who has reasonable grounds to suspect abuse has occurred or may occur shall immediately report the suspicion and the information to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Director. The following options for reporting are available:
Tel: 1-866-434-0144 (7 days a week, 8:30a.m.-7:00 p.m.)
Or Write a letter:
Director,* Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Performance Improvement and Compliance Branch
1075 Bay Street, 11th Floor
Toronto, ON M5S 2B1
Retirement Home Regulatory Authority (RHRA) -You must report elder abuse immediately to the RHRA if you see or suspect harm or risk of harm to a resident resulting from: Improper or incompetent treatment or care, abuse of a resident by anyone or neglect of a resident by staff of the retirement home, unlawful conduct, or misuse or misappropriation of a resident’s money.
Tel: 1-855-ASK-RHRA (1-855-275-7472)
The Director or the Registrar must look into all reports of abuse, and must send an inspector to the home immediately if the report is about harm or risk of harm. The operator of the home, whether a Long-Term Care or a Retirement Home, is also required to immediately contact the police if there is an alleged, suspected, or witnessed incident of abuse or neglect of a resident which may be a crime.
Crime Stoppers: If you suspect an older adult is being abused and/or a criminal act has taken place you can report anonymously to the police through Crime Stoppers.
Tel: 1-800-222-TIPS (8477)
Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT) – is responsible for protecting mentally incapable people; other responsibilities include protecting the public’s interest in charities, searching for heirs, investing perpetual care funds, and dealing with dissolved corporations.
In cases of financial or personal abuse, the OPGT can apply to the court to become the abused senior’s guardian on a temporary basis. The OPGT can also help the person get access to other services. They can intervene only if the person is believed to be mentally incapable and is at risk of harm or experiencing harm. There must be evidence/reason to believe that the person is incapable before the OPGT will investigate.
The Guardian Investigation Unit: 1-800-366-0335 or 416-327-6348
Seniors Safety Line
The SSL provides contact and referral information for local agencies across the province that can assist in cases of elder abuse Trained counsellors also provide safety planning and supportive counselling for older adults who are being abused or at risk of abuse. Family members and service providers can also call for information about community services.
If you are concerned about an older adult who is at significant risk of harm, is being abused, requires urgent care or it is an emergency, call 911.
In Canada, certain categories of abuse, such as fraud, assault, sexual assault, uttering threats and criminal harassment are crimes under the Canadian Criminal Code. Elder abuse is not a separate offence but covered by the current code. Something that is a Criminal Code offence does not cease to be an offence because the person is a senior.
Some of the Criminal Code provisions that may apply in cases elder abuse include:
The Criminal Code also includes a provision (s. 718.2) that requires the court to take into account for the purpose of sentencing as aggravating factors evidence that the offence was motivated by age- or disability-based bias, prejudice or hate.
Concerns about suspected or actual abuse should be reported to the police for investigation. A person reporting abuse may remain anonymous, however, it is often useful for the police to have a contact number in case they require some clarifying information. The person reporting the abuse can request that his or her identity be kept anonymous from the abuser but it may be divulged through the Freedom of Information or a court proceedings.
The police will determine whether or not to investigate a report based on many different factors. Investigations include gathering all relevant evidence and interviewing all potential witnesses. Relevant evidence may be a signed statement from the abused senior, statements from others that may have evidence, such as, family, friends, neighbours, caregivers, medical reports, financial records and photographs of the injuries.
Police can lay Criminal Code charges if they have reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed. Additional support can be provided by the Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services (VCARS) and/ or the Victim/Witness Assistance Program (VWAP). VCARS is a community response program providing immediate on-site service to victims of crimes or tragedies, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With consent from the victim, police officers can call on VCARS to send a team of trained volunteers to provide on-site, short-term assistance to victims and make referrals to community agencies for longer-term assistance. VWAP services are available to the most vulnerable victims and witnesses of crime from the time charges have been laid until disposition of the court case.
Should the abused senior be asked to testify in court, the Victim/Witness Assistance Program will assist him or her throughout the court process.The police can be helpful in connecting the abused senior to these important supports.
Even if the abuse is not a criminal matter, the police can be very helpful in connecting the senior to various supports such as community resources and make referrals to other agencies as needed. The police can provide information about the criminal process and what is involved for the victim or witness. They can explain the workings of the criminal justice system and what to expect with respect to possible outcomes and options.
Many police departments have officers who specialize in seniors issues, sometimes referred to as Seniors Support Officers (SSO) who are well informed about abuse. Seniors and the general public are encouraged to call to talk about their concerns and these officers can provide them with valuable information about different options and resources.
Ontario has also developed a province wide Seniors Crime Stoppers program to allow anyone to anonymously report incidents of elder abuse. This information will be forwarded to the police without fear of the caller being identified.
To report an incident of elder abuse anonymously call
Senior Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
There are provisions in the Act to protect residents from elder abuse, including the duty to protect, promoting zero tolerance of abuse and reporting, details of the legislation are available in Section 19 Prevention of Abuse and Neglect.
There is mandatory reporting to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care by any person except a resident of the following which resulted in either harm or a risk of harm to the resident:
Improper or incompetent treatment or care of a resident that resulted in harm or a risk of harm to the resident.
Health System Integration Act, 2006. 2007, c. 8, ss. 24 (1), 195 (2).
Reporting applies even if the report is based on information which would otherwise be confidential and privileged, members of Regulated Health Professions, persons registered under the Drugless Practitioners Act and members of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers.
Persons are guilty of an offence if they fail to make a report
The Act states there is Mandatory Reporting required for people to report elder abuse to the Registrar of the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA) if they suspect harm to retirement home residents (Section 75).
Who must report?
The Act indicated those required to report are individuals and corporations. This would include staff members of a retirement home, the licensee of a retirement home, volunteers, care and service providers, and directors and officers of a retirement home. Retirement home residents may report, but the Act does not require them to. A person is exempt from reporting if the person does not have reasonable grounds to suspect that the subject of the report is a resident of a retirement home.
Under section Retirement Home Act (s.75. (1), a person who has reasonable grounds to suspect that any of the following has occurred or may occur shall immediately report the suspicion and the information upon which it is based to the Registrar:
If the Retirement Home Authority receives a report indicating that abuse is suspect or has occurred, then an inspector will visit the retirement home immediately.
A person is guilty of an offence if they fail to report elder abuse.
An agency providing services is obligated to have policies and procedures on the notification of persons acting on behalf of the person with a developmental disability of an alleged, suspected or witnessed incident of abuse. And must obtain the consent of the person with a developmental disability before notifying others, if the person is capable of providing consent.