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Elder Abuse in Canada: A Gender-Based Analysis—Summary

Purpose

This report provides a gender-based analysis (GBA) of elder abuse in Canada. It provides information for creating bias-free, gender- and culturally-relevant research, policies and practices in elder abuse. It also describes the relevance and application of the findings to public health research, policies, programs and practices.

Key Concepts

Abuse of older adults is also called elder abuse or abuse of seniors. The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as

“a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.” (Footnote 1 )

Elder abuse is grouped into several main categories:

  1. physical abuse
  2. sexual abuse
  3. emotional or psychological abuse
  4. financial abuse
  5. neglect
  6. self-neglect or self-abuse

Understanding Gender-Based Analysis (GBA)

Gender-based analysis (GBA) is a tool for understanding social processes. It allows government to respond with informed, effective and equitable options for policies, programs and legislation that addresses the needs of all Canadians.(Footnote 2 )

The use of a “gender lens” identifies how public policies, programs and practices affect men and women differently. This guides decision-makers so that adjustments can be made to achieve fairness and justice (equity) when gender differences cause inequalities and disadvantages.

Gender Dimensions of Elder Abuse

Incidence and Prevalence of Elder Abuse from a Gender Perspective

In 2004, 3,370 incidents of violence against Canadians aged 65 and over were reported to police. Over one quarter (29%) of reported incidents against older people were committed by a family member.

Senior women were more likely than senior men to be victims of family violence. Four out of ten women (39%) were victimized by a family member, compared to two out of ten men (20%).

In 2004, the rate of violence against older women (44 per 100,000) was 22% higher than the rate of violence for older men (36 per 100,000).

In 2004, there were 50 homicides (23 men and 27 women) committed against seniors. Older women are more likely than older men to be killed by a family member.

In 1999, a higher proportion of older men (9%) than older women (6%) reported being victims of emotional or financial abuse (related to stealing of household property) by adult children, caregivers or spouses.(Footnote 3 )

There is little statistical data on the incidence and prevalence of elder abuse in the Aboriginal population.

There is also a lack of evidence to confirm if risk factors for elder abuse change in relation to ethnicity, race and culture of a particular group or community.(Footnote 4 )

Characteristics of Victims and Perpetrators

Victims’ Characteristics

Studies have shown that the characteristics of older victims are more likely to include:

  • living with others;
  • being depressed;
  • being socially isolated; and
  • suffering from impaired health.(Footnote 5 )

Victims of financial abuse tend to be:

  • unmarried (widowed, divorced or never married);
  • more often male;
  • lacking in social confidants; and
  • limited in their activities due to health problems or depression.

Perpetrators’ Characteristics

Perpetrator characteristics are more likely to include:

  • being male;
  • being a spouse or adult child;
  • being an alcohol abuser;
  • being dependent on and living with the victim;
  • having a negative perception of the older person;
  • having a history of deviant behaviour; and
  • having a high level of external stress in the past year.

Effects on Health

In 2004, one-third of senior victims sustained a minor injury (33%) as a result of an offence by a family member. Major injuries requiring medical assistance were experienced by 3% of victims.

Programs and Interventions

In Canada, emergency shelters offer a safe place to live for women experiencing violence. Women’s shelters provide a range of services, programs and community outreach efforts, including support groups, counselling, legal information, advocacy, referrals and accompaniment. There are a limited number of emergency shelters for older men in Canada.

Legislation

Four main types of laws used in Canada to protect older adults from abuse and neglect. These are:

  • family violence laws,
  • criminal law,
  • adult protection laws, and
  • adult guardianship laws.

However, even where provinces or territories have family violence laws, they are not used very often for abuse of seniors.

Approaches to the Gender-Based Analysis Process

Status of Women Canada suggests the following factors be considered when examining policies and programs through a Gender-Based Analysis process:

  1. Access: the ability for all people to have equal access to policy, program and legislative activities;
  2. Inclusion: representation throughout the policy/program process of diverse groups of women and men;
  3. Benefits: the intended advantages of any program/policy are equally available to both men and women of diverse cultures, socioeconomic status, and at various levels of identity.(Footnote 6 )

The report also describes a culturally relevant Gender-Based Analysis developed by the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the BIAS FREE framework(Footnote 7 ) developed to identify biases in policy, program and research based on gender, race and ability.

Implications

Access to data that are disaggregated by sex and age, as well as by culture/race, socio-economic status, and identity would be beneficial to better understand this issue. More culturally-relevant research that addresses the age and gender dimensions of oppression and vulnerability in older age is also relevant.

Elder Abuse in Canada: A Gender-Based Analysis—Full Report

The full report Elder Abuse in Canada: A Gender-Based Analysis was prepared by Peggy Edwards for the Division of Aging and Seniors, Public Health Agency of Canada, under the Federal Elder Abuse Initiative.

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Footnote 1
World Health Organization.  World Report on Violence and Health, Chapter 5: Elder Abuse, 2002.  Online: www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/en/

Footnote 2
Status of Women Canada.  What is gender-based analysis?  2008.  Online: www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/abu-ans/faq/abu-ans-eng.html

Footnote 3
Statistics Canada.  Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2006.  Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2006. 

Footnote 4
Dumont-Smith, C.  Aboriginal Elder Abuse in Canada, 2002.  Online: www.ahf.ca

Footnote 5
Hudson, M.  “Elder mistreatment: Its relevance to older women.”  Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association (JAMWA), 52, 3 (1997): 142-146.

Footnote 6
Status of Women Canada.  Gender-Based Analysis: Performance Measurement of Its Application, Ottawa, ON: Status of Women Canada, 2005.

Footnote 7
Burke, M.A., and M. Eichler.  The BIAS FREE Framework.  A practical tool for identifying and eliminating social biases in health research.  Global Forum for Health Research, 2006.