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CWL conference puts spotlight on elder abuse


A person’s ‘human rights’ don’t disappear with age and all older people have the right to feel safe and self-fulfilled Sonia Di Mezza told 160 members of the Catholic Women’s League at the 48th National Biennial Conference in Adelaide earlier this month.

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Ms Di Mezza, a human rights lawyer from Canberra and CWLA research officer, gave a forthright presentation on the growing problem of elder abuse.

“The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately 10 per cent of older people throughout the world are at risk or will experience elder abuse at some time,” she said.

“Australia’s population is ageing and that means that 10 per cent is going to produce a higher number of people abused in the future”.

“Sometimes abusers have a gambling or alcohol addiction that needs to be fuelled by cash. Older people can be a soft target and become subjected to elder abuse.”

Ms Di Mezza said the problem was often difficult to detect because of a reluctance for the abused to speak up.

“There is a real sense of shame with elder abuse,” she said.

“As mums we are so used to protecting our children; even if they are hurting us, we’ll just put up with it, it is often a habit that we put our child’s interests before our own.”

She said that some abusers threatened to put the older person in a nursing home if they said anything about the abuse, and there also was the fear of what other people would think and the damage to their family’s reputation if they were to tell others about the abuse.

The legal system was not always easy to navigate for older people seeking redress for elder abuse problems they may face, with lots of legal hurdles to overcome. It could be difficult for the older person to prove elder abuse or communicate what they were suffering to others if they have a cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s.

Typically, elder abuse was committed by someone close to the person and in many cases it was either a son or daughter.

The conference began with evening Mass in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral on Monday September 11. A power blackout resulted in almost the entire Mass being celebrated in the dark and while this posed challenges, it created a special atmosphere for participants. The Governor’s wife, Mrs Lan Le, saying it was the “most beautiful Mass” she had been to.

Archbishop Wilson, who celebrated the Mass and spoke at the conference, expressed his deep gratitude to the CWL for their presence and ministry in Australia, which added to the vitality of the life of the Australian Catholic Church.

In his address, he focused on the Scriptures and referred to an excerpt from the first letter of Peter at the end of the New Testament: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope but do it with gentleness and reverence”.

He said the letter, which was aimed at encouraging the readers at a time when they were facing persecution and suffering because of their faith, provided a “very good explanation of the way we should be living our lives today”.

“There is a chance in Australia at the moment that we will just become defensive and buckle down and hope they will all go away, which is not what God wants,” Archbishop Wilson said.

“God wants us to be like the people in the Church in those early days suffering from persecution and difficulty and be people confident of what we’ve been given, not arrogant and acting as if we know everything but confident because of the relationship we have with Jesus.

“We have to hold on to the things that are most precious about our faith and trust in them and use them in order to be witnesses to the Lord.”





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