An Empirical Examination of Elder Abuse: A Review of files from the Elder Abuse Section of the Ottawa Police Service

4. Discussion and Conclusion

The results of this analysis reveal some general trends with regards to the characteristics of cases that were investigated between 2005 and 2010. Notably, there were slightly more women accused of elder abuse than men (52% female vs. 48% male). This is in contrast to the most recent Statistics Canada data on female offending, which shows that in 2009 females accounted for less than a quarter (22%) of adult accused (those accused of all types of offences).Footnote 23

Among victims, females represented a higher proportion than males (70% female). This is in contrast to police-reported data on victims of crime, which show that in 2010 females represented about half of victims (victims of all types of crime).Footnote 24 This finding is likely related to the fact that women make up a disproportionate proportion of the senior population (particularly among the oldest age groups). In fact, census data from 2006 show that women accounted for almost 69% of persons aged 85 or older, while they accounted for 58% of those 75 to 84 and 52% of persons aged 65 to 74. In addition, research indicates that men underreport elder abuse for a number of reasons. These include: men do not view themselves as victims; shame; they wish to stay with the family; and men tend to be abandoned more than women.Footnote 25

Notably, only a small proportion of cases investigated by the Ottawa Police resulted in charges (17%). This is compared to Statistics Canada data on the number of cases investigated by police cleared by charge in 2010 (26%).Footnote 26 Officers working in the field have found that maintaining family relationships, fears and anxieties about institutionalization and loss of independence, factors including financial dependency, disability and or illness are all factors that may provide possible explanations for the small proportion of cases resulting in charges. Also, the nature of many elder abuse incidents is such that criminal charges are not appropriate or applicable (e.g., accused accepting large amounts of money as gifts). It is also important to note that the strategy employed by the Elder Abuse Section to focus first and foremost on the needs of the victim (e.g., referrals to community services) may also contribute to low number of charges being laid.

This study highlights the importance obtaining of data on the reasons why charges were not laid in cases of elder abuse, and what actions police took as an alternative to charging. In many cases charges were not laid due to a lack of evidence and/or a refusal of the victim to cooperate with police. In addition, police files indicated that in half of cases there were barriers to the investigations, many of which are characteristic of elder abuse cases (e.g., mental health issues, physical disabilities). Records also indicate that police are making many referrals to community-based services and supports, as well as providing safety and other advice to victims.

This research provides valuable insight into the characteristics of cases brought to the attention of the Ottawa police. The vulnerabilities that put older Canadians at risk of victimization can also create barriers to criminal investigations and the criminal justice system as a response. Further research delving into the barriers facing police in investigating cases of elder abuse would be beneficial, as police face unique challenges in these types of cases. For example, adding a full-time elder abuse specialist on police staff may alleviate barriers to criminal investigations and, at the same time, free up officers to investigate the criminal aspects of elder abuse cases. Another example would be ensuring resource agencies and programs that provide support and assistance to elderly victims are well resourced.

A replication of this study in other dedicated elder abuse police units across the country would be beneficial to understanding if these trends are unique to Ottawa or common to elder abuse cases in other jurisdictions.

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