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Ambassador Q&A: Robert Critchlow

Robert Critchlow
March/April 2017

White Ambassador Robert Critchlow of the NSW Police Force discusses elder abuse, the link to violence against women and initiatives that aim to fight this.

What is your day job?

I am the Local Area Commander of the Hills in Sydney’s North West based at Castle Hill. I also have roles in our corporate responses to Elder Abuse and Victim Care.

How long have you been a White Ribbon Ambassador?

I received the honour of being an Ambassador in March 2016.

What is ‘elder abuse’ and why is this an issue to be considered when talking about men’s violence against women?

A simple definition is that elder abuse is mistreatment of an older person by someone they know, trust or rely upon. This sadly is usually a family member or a spouse, and is usually a son or daughter. Internationally, there is an estimated victimisation rate of 6% of the older population.

Abuse is complex, and not always purely physical. The most prominent form of abuse is psychological, followed by financial, neglect, physical abuse and fortunately sexual abuse is the rarest. What is noteworthy is that an older person suffering any form of abuse has a greatly increased chance of suffering ill health and dying early. For example defrauding an older family member of their house or finances causes psychological distress which results in poor health and death. It is very serious.

The abuse of an older family member is domestic violence both in principle and law. The issues are the same, it is a misuse of power in a relationship causing harm to the sufferer. From a White Ribbon standpoint there is no difference, we need men to stop being violent or abusive to their parents or grandparents, and to speak up if their wives are abusing her parents, or if others they know are defrauding or abusing older people in their lives. There are many case studies of women suffering domestic violence from their husbands only to suffer further abuse from their sons and grandsons, often over an adult lifetime of 50 to 60 years.

What initiatives have been enacted by different organisations to address this issue?

The leading intervention in NSW is the Elder Abuse Helpline which provides an advice and referral service for any caller wishing to seek advice about abuse of older people. Most states and territories have similar services. The number in NSW is 1800 628 221 and they are very skilled at providing relevant and useful advice and have many connections to helping agencies.

The NSW Police Force is clearly skilled at responding to reports of domestic violence and we use those skills in managing abuse of older people. We also assist other agencies in their responses. There is much that can be done. For example, if businesses provide services to older people it is imperative that a watching role is taken over vulnerable older people who need assistance in their affairs. If an older person suddenly makes risky investments or moves large amount of cash then questions must be asked. The Financial Services Council is working with it members to ensure these protections.

Many community groups are conducting training and awareness for their members to enable them to be mindful of the sometimes hidden issue and to empower them to speak up. The helpline and police are happy to assist with this.

We need every responsible man in the business or services world to keep an eye out for older people and provide them the support and respect they need.

What advice would you give to individuals who want to take action on the issue of elder abuse?

The Elder Abuse Helpline should be a primary response strategy for anyone concerned about an older person. This includes people suffering from abuse personally. GPs and emergency doctors are also excellent resources and must be consulted if the health of the older person is suffering.

The Police Force has domestic violence liaison officers and crime prevention officers who have had awareness training and have the skills to manage family dysfunction. They are able to offer advice on the best course of action. Police and ambulance must be called when there is clear evidence of physical harm to a vulnerable older person or a serious crime having been committed. A failure to do so can be an offence itself for failing to disclose a crime to police.

For professionals concerned about breaching information obtained in confidence or privacy implications, they are encouraged to anonymously call the helpline or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000

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