Public prosecutor Flor de Torres has been dealing with cases of abuse against elderly people for years, however she claims that the cases that reach the courts are only the tip of the iceberg.
She describes this type of crime as “invisible”. The victims rarely report maltreatment and the abusers take advantage of their physical and emotional vulnerability. The solution, says this expert in domestic and family violence, is for the local community to help detect cases.
In the last 13 years the public prosecution in the province of Malaga has opened around a thousand investigations into elder abuse. In 2011 the figures peaked at 111 cases, and went down to 53 last year.
However De Torres maintains that these statistics do not reflect the real situation suffered by many older people. In the majority of cases, she added, the victim is the mother of her abuser, who has mental health or drug problems, although there are cases of elderly men also suffering at the hands of their children.
When the abuser is not a member of the family it is normally a carer employed to look after the elderly person who is responsible.
“They know that the victim is vulnerable and take advantage of that,” said De Torres.
The elderly victims are abused not only physically and emotionally, but also financially. This last aspect worsened with the crisis as children moved back in with their parents and took control of their pensions as their own source of income.
The prosecutor explained that in the cases investigated there is often more than one abuser and several relatives take advantage of the elderly victim.
“ We had one case of a 102-year-old woman who was being abused. You couldn’t get anymore defenceless than that,” she added.
De Torres believes that the solution to the problem is social, as from a legal point of view, the victims tend to refuse to make a statement due to their close relationship with their abusers. According to Spanish law, parents and children of defendants are not obliged to testify against them.
It is down to society, therefore, says the prosecutor, to report cases to the authorities if they are made aware of them.
De Torres also said more could be done to protect victims. “We need a special law to protect elderly people, as there is for victims of gender violence,” she added.
The Spanish authorities have set up a free 24-hour helpline for elderly people (900858381) where cases of abuse can be reported and advice given. This is managed by the Junta de Andalucía and information is passed on to the prosecutors.
Non-profit organisations are also active in the care of elderly members of the English-speaking community in southern Spain. Advice is available from Age Care (952933409) and Age Concern (608458555).