Abuse and Neglect of Seniors and Others with Disabilities (4:VII)
Abuse and neglect of seniors and adults with disabilities occurs when a family member, friend, caregiver or other person financially, physically, or emotionally abuses or neglects such an individual. Elder Abuse and abuse of adults with disabilities includes physical, mental or emotional harm, and damage or loss in respect of financial affairs (i.e., financial abuse). Examples include intimidation, humiliation, physical assault, sexual assault, overmedication, withholding needed medication, censoring mail, invasion or denial of privacy, denial of access to visitors, and neglect. Many types of abuse, and some types of neglect, are criminal offences.
All types of abuse and neglect are harmful. Such abuse can occur because of lack of knowledge or understanding by a caregiver of an adult’s situation, or be very deliberate. The person causing the harm may have mental health difficulties, alcohol or substance use, or more complex psychosocial issues. Further, individuals who have suffered years of spousal abuse may also be susceptible to further neglect and abuse, such as financial abuse, by others.
Abuse or neglect of seniors and adults with disabilities is often hidden behind inquiries about benefits, services, and wills and estates. For instance, such an individual may inquire about housing benefits available to them. A little probing may uncover that the reason for wanting housing benefits is to escape an abusive relative who has taken control of their house. Individuals should watch for subtle indications of abuse and neglect.
Some older adults may be embarrassed to reveal abuse or neglect, particularly if a family member is involved. Some may not know how to get help, or be unsure if what they are experiencing is considered abuse or neglect. Some may worry about repercussions on their family member or caregiver. They may also fear retaliation from the person who harmed them. Or, they may fear losing services they need, losing their money, having to move, or breaking up the family. They may worry about not being believed.
The information below pertains to the many avenues victims or those acting in their best interests may chose to pursue, as well as lists available resources. Further information on how to address seniors’ abuse may also be found in Chapter 15: Adult Guardianship and Substitute Decision-Making.
A. Ending the Abuse or Neglect
Upon discovering a case of abuse or neglect of a senior or individual with disabilities, clinicians should provide information about what kind of help is available. Police respond to reports of persons in immediate danger or possible criminal offences. They investigate offences and provide information about other agencies that may be able to help. Victim Service programs are located in community agencies or police stations. They provide emotional support, justice system information, safety planning, referrals to counselling and other services, help in accessing crime victim assistance benefits, and support to victims going to court.
VictimLink BC provides information and referrals to all victims of crime, and immediate crisis support to victims of family and sexual violence. Call 1-800-563-0808 or go to www.victimlinkbc.ca.
The Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) operated by the BC Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support (BCCEAS) is a toll free telephone line which is staffed 7 days a week (excluding holidays), 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. SAIL is a safe place for older adults, and those who care about them, to talk to someone about situations where they feel they are being abused or mistreated, or to receive information about elder abuse prevention. Call (604) 437-1940 or toll free 1-866-437-1940.
Part 3 of the Adult Guardianship Act, RSBC 1996, c 6, has special provisions on abuse and neglect. These include physical, sexual, emotional and financial forms of abuse/neglect. These provisions are aimed at adults unable to get help because of a physical restraint, a physical disability, or a condition that affects their ability to make decisions about the abuse or neglect.
Under Part 3 of the Act, ‘designated agencies’ respond to reports of abuse or neglect involving adults in these circumstances and notify police if a criminal offence appears to have been committed. Designated Agencies under the Adult Guardianship Act include the five Regional Health Authorities, Providence Health Care Society, and Community Living BC. They can address a range of health and safety issues and help in informal or formal ways. Formal tools include gaining access to the adult in emergencies, obtaining access orders or warrants, obtaining short and long term restraining orders, and on occasion obtaining support and assistance court orders.
Designated agencies often work with the Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) in responding to abuse/neglect situations. Under the Public Guardian and Trustee Act, the PGT investigates reports of financial abuse or neglect, can restrict access to assets in emergencies where there is concern an adult may be mentally incapable, and may provide financial management services for adults incapable of managing their own affairs. The PGT makes referrals to designated agencies if there are concerns about physical risk or harm to the vulnerable adult. The following is a link to the PGT’s Decision Tree for more information on knowing who to call:
For further information on supporting victims of elder abuse, see the Understanding and Responding to Elder Abuse E-Book.
Other B.C. laws aiming to protect adults in financial and health-care matters include: the Public Guardian and Trustee Act, the Representation Agreement Act, and the Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admisssion) Act.
Remember that the victim may depend on his or her alleged abuser for financial or physical assistance. If the victim wants to make a report that may lead to the laying of information, moving to a transition house, or getting a protection order (see Section V.B.3: Protection Order, below), he or she may need to find alternate arrangements for financial or physical support that the abuser may have been providing. Some of the financial and social services available to the victim are listed below.
B. Legal Remedies
1. Criminal Charges
No B.C. legislation specifically addresses abuse of elders and adults with disabilities but the following Criminal Code sections may apply:
- s 265: assault;
- s 215(1)(c): duty of persons to provide necessaries to a person under his or her charge;
Financial abuse offences:
- s 322: theft;
- s 331: theft by person holding power of attorney; and
- s 332: misappropriation of money held under direction.
Remember that a victim may be reluctant to make a report that may lead to the laying of an Information against a family member.
2. Peace Bond
Pursuant to s 810 – 811 of the Criminal Code, a peace bond requires that the abusive person “keep the peace” for up to 12 months or face a possible prison sentence.
3. Protection Order
A protection order (formerly referred to as a restraining order) restricts contact between the abused and abuser and is available pursuant to s 183 of the Family Law Act, but only if the abused is a spouse or family member that lives with the abuser. The Family Law Act defines “spouse” as someone who is married to another person or has lived with another person in a marriage-like relationship and has done so for a continuous period of two years or has children with another person. The Act defines a “family member,” with respect to a person, as that person’s spouse or former spouse; a person with whom the person is living, or has lived, in a marriage-like relationship; a parent or guardian of the person’s child; a person who lives with and is related to the person; or the person’s child.
A restraining order can also be obtained under s 56(3)(c) of the Adult Guardianship Act. It is necessary to note the defendant’s date of birth when applying for the restraining order so that it is not placed against the wrong individual. Applicants should remember to include a Police Enforcement Clause so that the police are required to act on breaches. Once the order is in place, it is registered with Protection Order Registry, which is accessible by police.
4. Conditional Release or Probation
Another way to protect the victim is to contact the Crown if the abuser has been charged and, on a finding of guilt, to get conditions placed on the abuser’s release or probation order restricting contact between the abuser and the victim. Keep in mind that the burden of proof is higher in criminal matters than civil matters, including when proving a breach of conditions.
C. Other Remedies
BC has a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health for Seniors (Darryl Plecas), a Seniors’ Services Branch and an Office of the Seniors Advocate.
The following list represents some non-legal solutions that may assist the abused person.
1. General Support
If the adult is in need of health or home care related services, or there are concerns about the adult’s ability to seek support due to a disability or condition impacting their ability to make decisions, the victim’s nearest health unit (see the telephone book’s blue pages for contact information) is probably the best place to start. A trained nurse or social worker can investigate the situation, present options to the victim, and place them in contact with necessary assistance.
BC Association of Community Response Networks (has list of resources by community)
Seniors First BC (Formerly B.C. Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support (BCCEAS))
Disability Alliance of BC (Formerly BC Coalition of People with Disabilities)
If the alleged abuser cannot be removed from the home, the victim may need temporary shelter. Older and senior women at risk of violence may be admitted to women’s transition houses if space is available. Ama House in South Surrey/White Rock is a specialised transition house for older and senior women at risk of violence. See Chapter 22: Referrals for transition house phone numbers. Some houses do not have a one-week maximum stay, although all stays at transition houses are typically no longer than 30 days. If all of the local transition houses are full, Battered Women’s Support Services (telephone: (604) 687-1867) can sometimes locate alternative shelter. After Hours Services (see Chapter 22: Referrals) can also provide assistance and can refer elderly men to temporary shelter or housing.
3. Home Support
The victim may depend on the alleged abuser for help in the home and may be reluctant to act because he or she fears being placed in a nursing home. In fact, the victim may only need a little extra help to live alone. Phone the BC Ministry of Health Services Long-Term Care Program to determine whether the victim is eligible to receive home support services (cleaning, handyman services, etc.). A person may also be able to contact intake in the health authority in which they live to request an assessment. Moreover, home support services may also have the benefit of relieving the stress a caregiver/abuser may experience; stress that sometimes causes the abuse.
Also phone Meals-On-Wheels, if necessary:
|Vancouver, Richmond||(604) 732-7638 or (604) 733-6615 (Cantonese)|
|Burnaby||(604) 299-5754 ext. 23|
|New Westminster||(604) 520-6621|
|North Shore, West Vancouver||(604) 922-3414|
|White Rock / South Surrey||(604) 541-6325|
|Port Coquitlam||(604) 942-7506|
4. Seniors’ Benefits
The victim may not be receiving all of the financial benefits he or she is entitled to. These benefits (Old Age Security Pension, Guaranteed Income Supplement, Canada Pension Plan, and others) may give the victim more freedom to change his or her situation. Phone a local seniors’ centre for more information.
More information is available online at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/family-social-supports/seniors/financial-legal-matters/income-security-programs
Information regarding Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters may be found at: http://www.bchousing.org/Initiatives/Providing/SAFER
5. Links to the Community
The victim may feel isolated and lonely. Ask the victim if they would like a referral to a community organization. Community organisations such as a social or volunteer organisation can give them a sense of belonging and self-esteem.
|© Copyright 2017, The Greater Vancouver Law Students' Legal Advice Society.|