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How do you know if you are ‘vulnerable’?

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Why do I ask?

Because, in the context of elder abuse, vulnerability is a fundamental factor. It has eluded any agreed definition despite countless enquiries and reviews. That difficulty has often been used by lawmakers as an excuse not to criminalise elder abuse. It was all too hard.

But, in what I think is a first in Australia, a Bill has been introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly to make elder abuse a crime.

One of the key tasks of the legislation is to define who can be a victim of elder abuse. To be a victim, you must fall into the definition of a ‘vulnerable person’, namely, they must be at least 60 years of age and:

  1. Have a disorder, illness or disease that affects their thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement or otherwise results in disturbed behaviour; or
  2. Have an impairment that is intellectual, psychiatric, sensory or physical and which results in a substantially reduced capacity for communication, learning or mobility; or
  3. They are socially isolated or unable to participate in their community.

That is a challenging set of alternative definitions and could well see legal argy-bargy about what all those words mean. What is also significant is the choice of 60 years old as the starting point for vulnerability. What is also significant is that it does not necessarily restrict vulnerability to people with a mental impairment. It extends to people with no mental impairment but who have other limitations e.g., physical, including a lack of mobility.

I have been an advocate for criminalising elder abuse for many years. This development is very welcome but, I suspect, it will be the subject of much controversy. The trouble with controversy is that it can result, many times, in the shelving of good ideas.

Let’s hope not and that the initiative takes hold in the rest of the country.

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