Abuse of the elderly: Why some are reluctant to speak up

Abuse of the elderly: Why some are reluctant to speak up

Fear of reprisal, a lack of knowledge on help available and even self-blame prevents victims of abuse from reporting it, guests on Channel 5's Talking Point explain.

Lower Delta Road abuse

SINGAPORE: Over a period of six months, Mr Mohd Juani Ali noticed an old woman being slapped and hit with a broom by his neighbour, but was lost on how he should intervene.

He tried stepping in once by yelling from afar.

“One day I came back from work and I shouted, telling the daughter to stop hitting her mum. She stopped, but when I went inside, she started beating her again,” said Mr Juani.

He eventually managed to film evidence of the abuse in secret along the common corridor of their HDB block at Lower Delta Road. The clip, uploaded to his Facebook account went viral and prompted the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the police to step in.

A neighbour is now facing three charges with abetting Siti Redha Khamis in voluntarily causing hurt to her mother Mdm Kamisah Burel, as well as slapping a man understood to be Mdm Kamisah's husband.

Despite the praise he has received for blowing the whistle on the abuse, Mr Mohd Juani regrets not doing something sooner. “I hope people can do what I did, but do it earlier than when I did,” he said in a panel discussion on elder abuse on Channel 5’s Talking Point.

“Better to get your evidence first and then you report it.”

"I hope every people can do what I did, but earlier than what I did."Why did it take Mohd Juani a few months to bring the abuse of an elderly neighbour to light with his viral video? Do you agree with what he says?Catch the repeat telecast of ‘The hidden world of elder abuse’ on Friday (July 31), 2pm on Channel 5. Watch the full episode at http://video.toggle.sg/en/series/talking-point/ep23/338176.

Posted by Talking Point on Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Joining Mr Mohd Juani were TRANS SAFE Centre director Tan Ching Yee, lawyer Shahiran Ibrahim of Asia Law Corporation, and Dr Ng Wai Chong, medical director of Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing. They addressed some of the challenges facing Singaporean society when dealing with and reporting elder abuse.

According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, there are some 200 cases of elder abuse a year. But that is just the tip of the iceberg as many may go unreported, the panelists said. The types of abuse vary, from psychological and physical mistreatment, to financial exploitation. Three out of four of abuse victims in Singapore are women.


Older victims are not aware of the resources out there and they do not know what to do, according to Ms Tan. Homebound, suffering from illnesses, often reliant on those who abuse them, they lack the capacity to reach out to social workers or community, she said.

Other victims choose not to report abuse because of fear of what would then happen to the perpetrator. Others blame themselves by believing that they are not a good parent.

“We try to convince them that it’s a good thing to talk to a social worker. It’s our job to help them and we can try to work out a safety plan”, said Ms Tan.

Another challenge social workers like Ms Tan face is the difficulty to prove that someone is being abused.

Said Dr Ng: “There is no blood test you can do, there is no scan that would say ‘Oh this is abuse’. And a lot of the time, there’s no evidence.”


When it is introduced later this year, the Vulnerable Adults Act will give social workers and other professionals, such as lawyers or doctors, powers to enter the house of a suspected victim to assess the case and remove the person to a place of safety.

“This new law is timely and useful but even with it, there's still a lot of work to be done. We need to develop sufficient community support services, nursing homes, community doctors,” pointed out Dr Ng.

Ms Tan agreed: “At the moment, there are no places of safety in cases of elder abuse.

“If the family wants to remove the victim from a hospital or nursing home, we can’t stop them.”


Talking Point (intervening)

Making abuse allegations against your neighbours could lead to a dispute, Mr Shahiran said. Ms Tan added that the victim and the perpetrator should be approached separately and with discretion. “You don't want to confront the situation with both of them around. After such a confrontation, the victim would get abused even further.”

Dr Ng emphasised that the authorities, doctors, and social workers have to know how to handle these situations sensitively.

“I had a patient who I strongly suspected was being abused. I sent her to the hospital with a memo that I felt there was something going on. And in the end, I had a lot of issues with the family who felt I was not being professional as a doctor.

“If you report it, you have to be prepared for the aftermath.”

Watch the full Talking Point discussion on the Hidden World Of Elder Abuse on Toggle.

Source: CNA/kc