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Department of Human Services

Zero tolerance of all forms of abuse - principle 1

Understanding abuse

Abuse is ' ... a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.

Often, the people who abuse [others] are exploiting a special relationship. [Abusers are often] in a position of trust, whether through family bonds, friendship or through a paid caring role, and they exploit that trust.'

Source: Elder Abuse UK

Abuse can take many forms

Living a life free of abuse includes not being subject to:

  • acts of commission (when someone is actively maltreated)
  • acts of omission (where bad things happen to someone because of someone else's failure to act).

There are many ways in which people can be abused.

Physical abuse is where someone is ...

  • Hit, slapped, kicked or pushed
  • Exposed to misuse of medication
  • Experiences restraint or inappropriate sanctions.

Psychological abuse is where someone is ...

  • Threatened with harm or abandonment
  • Deprived of contact with others
  • Humiliated, blamed or controlled
  • Intimidated, coerced, harassed or verbally abused
  • Being isolated or withdrawn/removed from services or supportive networks.

Neglect and acts of omission is abuse when someone ...

  • Ignores someone else's medical or physical care needs
  • Fails to provide access to appropriate health, social care or educational services for another person
  • Withholds medication, adequate nutrition and heating.

Financial or material abuse is where someone experiences ...

  • Theft, fraud, exploitation and/or pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance or financial transactions
  • Misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.

Sexual abuse is where someone ...

  • Rapes someone else
  • Sexually assaults another person
  • Exposes someone to participating in or seeing sexual acts to which they have not consented, or could not consent, or were pressured into consenting.

Institutional abuse is where someone ...

  • Encounters rigid, intensive routines, or inadequate privacy or comfort (this can happen in care homes or hospitals, or when someone receives an institutional style of care in their own home).

'It is a criminal offence for a person providing care to someone who lacks capacity to ill-treat or willfully neglect them. A similar offence of longer standing, exists for anyone being treated for mental disorder in a hospital, mental nursing home, independent hospital or care home.' Joint Commission Human Rights 2007

Potential breaches of human rights in a care setting

Abuse is a serious and severe breach of human rights perpetrated on vulnerable people who often depend on their abusers to provide them with care. It is a betrayal of trust, and can also be a criminal offence.

The following list describes situations that constitute abuse:

  • Malnutrition and dehydration
  • Abuse and rough treatment
  • Lack of privacy in mixed accommodation
  • Lack of dignity especially for personal care needs
  • Insufficient attention paid to confidentiality
  • Neglect, carelessness and poor hygiene
  • Inappropriate medication and use of physical restraint
  • Inadequate assessment of a person's needs
  • Too hasty discharge from hospital
  • Bullying and patronising
  • Failure to address communication difficulties, including for those people who do not speak English
  • The creation of fear among people about making complaints.

Restrictive practices

The unauthorised and unnecessary use of restrictive practices (including restraints) can constitute abuse.

Dignity and respect

Dignity and respect are key principles of human rights. Disability Services, disability service providers and individuals providing care have a duty to protect basic human rights.

The Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 is a legal instrument that helps maintain people's human rights and is intended:

  1. to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination against persons on the ground of disability in the areas of:
    1. work, accommodation, education, access to premises, clubs and sport; and
    2. the provision of goods, facilities, services and land; and
    3. existing laws; and
    4. the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs; and
  2. to ensure, as far as practicable, that persons with disabilities have the same rights to equality before the law as the rest of the community; and
  3. to promote recognition and acceptance within the community of the principle that persons with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as the rest of the community.

Dignity in Care requires zero tolerance of all forms of abuse.

Email if you would like to become a Dignity in Care champion or need further information.

Page last updated : 13 Feb 2020

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