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World News

Churches should adopt safe spaces to tackle elderly abuse says Salvation Army

by Donna Birrell

According to the United Nations (UN), between one and ten per cent of the world's aged population may be suffering abuse and says the issue is going under-reported.

As the number of elderly people increases globally, the UN says abuse of the aged has become a growing problem in Britain and abroad.

Churches are also being urged to look out for the signs of older people who may be suffering abuse.

Andrew Wileman, assistant director of Older People's Ministries at the Salvation Army has been speaking to Premier about what constitutes elder abuse.

“Elder abuse can range from a number of different things, like financial abuse, the illegal taking or misuse of money, or assets of a vulnerable older person. Sometimes it's physical abuse as well as emotional abuse or neglect.

“It could also be a failure to provide food or shelter, care or protection. Or abandonment of a vulnerable older person. It can also relate to sexual abuse.”

Wileman says elder abuse happens primarily within family networks: “The older person is less likely to report or feel they can speak to anybody about it, because it is a family member who is engaged in the abuse. So the older person is made to feel very isolated and vulnerable.”

In 2022 an Age UK report found that over 400,000 older people over the age of 65 in England and Wales were victims of domestic violence in the last year.

Wileman told Premier that because of their age, many elderly people are particularly vulnerable and frail, rely on a family member for shelter, and therefore are reluctant to report abuse. He’s calling on the wider Church and church leaders to be more aware of what is happening among the older members of their congregations. 

“I think it's about what we're trying to do at the Salvation Army, with all our churches and our centres. We’re creating safe places for adults at risk, where it's very evident that they can come to us and seek support and help.

"We need to educate our congregations about the facts and the figures around this particular area and also encourage our church leaders to engage in home visits, create a network, create a relationship for those who are no longer able to come to the church, and go inside people's home and try and become aware of their situations. We want older people to know that they have people who will support and help them.

“Our prayers need to be about keeping our ears and our eyes and our every sense that we have open to the possibility that older people in our society, in our streets, and in our congregations are being abused on a day-to-day basis. We need to pray that there will be peace of heart and mind for our older folk," he concluded. 


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