Waiting for the world elder abuse awareness day 2019, we will post everyday a story from real-life situations where the human rights of older people in Finland, Ireland, Italy and Romania were not respected. Their stories illustrate the challenges older people face in having their rights met.
Nobody took action, I was left defenseless
Ingrid, a 70 year-old mother and retired nurse has lived with abuse for many years. Her son, Igor, has mental health and substance abuse issues. He is always looking for money and can become abusive and threatening if refused. Ingrid even had to return to work after retirement to pay off her son’s debts.
She recounts how “years ago I used to call the police every time ..I was very scared and wanted someone to talk sense to him”. Outside of filing a restraining order, which Ingrid felt she didn’t have “the, energy and skills” to do, the police could do nothing, “they said I needed to set boundaries and they couldn’t do anything until my son commits a crime”. Ingrid stopped calling for help because she felt ashamed. She was certain that they thought “what kind of a mother can’t control her son?”
That day came; refusing her son’s demand for money, he violently pushed her over breaking her hip. Ingrid’s past experience with law enforcers stopped her from involving the police. However after a hospital social worker contacted the authorities, she was informed that a criminal offence (battery) had been committed, hence the decision to prosecute rested with the authorities.
The trial was held in a district court and Ingrid and her son were both summoned to attend. Ingrid explains how “I felt really scared going into trial because it meant facing my son for the first time after the incident”. She was also doubtful about whether she “would be taken seriously this time” She was right, revealing “It turned out my suspicions about the usefulness of the stressful process were right.”
Ingrid describes how she was shocked when the public prosecutor suggested that they settle the case out of court as allowed by their legal system if the victim and suspected perpetrator were in agreement. Ingrid explains how the public prosecutor “seemed annoyed”, asking “why such a fuss?” and insisted that they were “two reasonable adults, surely you can deal with this in private.” This discussion took place with her son in the room. Ingrid feels betrayed, wondering “why would they drag me through the stressful investigation and prosecution process just to send us home again with no consequences and changes to the situation?” While the judge did question Ingrid further, asking her if she was OK with settling the case out of court, Ingrid was too scared of her son’s reaction and the prosecutor’s response to say no.
Ingrid is left frustrated with all of the authorities and with their failure to provide her with help over the years. She wonders if those with authority would have acted differently if instead of an older woman, she had been a child, pointing out how “I am also defenseless in front of my adult son”, but this does not mean “I’m just a silly old lady with too much imagination or problems with my memory to be taken seriously” .
Her hope is that no other older people would ever have to go through what she endured, She advises that “authorities should definitely be better trained to identify and take more seriously violence and abuse against old adults” and that “ receiving justice and having one’s rights respected cannot be a question of luck in terms of how knowledgeable and empathetic the individual assigned to help you is.”
Ingrid’s story highlights infringements of these rights
ECHR Article 3 Prohibition of torture and ill-treatment;
ECHR Article 8 Right to respect for private and family life;
ECHR Article 13 Right to effective remedy;
ECHR Article 14 Prohibition of discrimination in the enjoyment of Convention rights;
ECHR Protocol 1 Article 1 Protection of private property.