Report examines elder abuse and neglect in New Zealand

Thu 27 Aug 2015

The Ministry of Social Development has published a report on elder abuse and neglect in New Zealand. This paper was commissioned by the Office ...

The Ministry of Social Development has published a report on elder abuse and neglect in New Zealand.

This paper was commissioned by the Office for Senior Citizens and written by Charles Waldegrave from the Family Centre Social Policy Research Unit.

The study is the first New Zealand attempt to estimate the possible prevalence of older people experiencing abuse and neglect. The aim of this study was to provide an evidence base on the prevalence of elder abuse, some of the populations most affected and the observed impacts of it.

The author applied the Vulnerability to Abuse Screening Scale (VASS) which independently examines four dimensions related to elder abuse and neglect: vulnerability, dependence, dejection and coercion. Accordingly it could be considered a measure of vulnerability to abuse rather than the prevalence of abuse, although the vulnerability and coercion scales measure aspects of violence.

The questionnaire was sent by mail to older people (aged 65 to 86 years) living independently or semi-independently. It includes only older people with the capacity to complete the questionnaire. It does not include older people in hospitals or residential institutions

The scales and items used were:


  • Are you afraid of anyone in your family?
  • Has anyone close to you tried to hurt you or harm you recently?
  • Has anyone close to you called you names or put you down or made you feel bad recently?


  • Do you have enough privacy at home?
  • Do you trust most people in your family?
  • Can you take your own medication and get around by yourself?


  • Are you sad or lonely often?
  • Do you feel that nobody wants you around?
  • Do you feel uncomfortable with anyone in your family?


  • Does someone in your family make you stay in bed or tell you are sick when you know you’re not?
  • Has anyone forced you to do things you didn’t want to do?
  • Has anyone taken things that belong to you without your OK?

The author states the key findings include:

  • "Around one in ten older people did report some form of abuse (most closely linked to vulnerability and coercion)
  • There were significant differences between women and men. Across each measure, women experienced a greater sense of vulnerability, dependence and dejection. However men experienced higher levels of coercion.
  • Older people who were divorced, separated or widowed people felt considerably more sad and lonely, or were uncomfortable with someone in their family
  • Older Māori experienced a significantly greater level of abuse than non-Māori. Maori report being coerced more than 2.5 times the rate for non-Māori, meaning they are forced to do things they don't want to do and people take things from them without their permission
  • Failure to address current levels of elder abuse is likely to have significant effects in the future. This is because the report shows statistically significant reductions in physical and mental health and wellbeing, as well as increases in loneliness and depression associated with elder abuse
  • Projections indicate that the number of older people experiencing elder abuse and neglect will increase significantly in the next 20 years, alongside a doubling of the 65 and over population."

Two reports are available:

Senior Citizens Minister Maggie Barry said "Often elder abuse is hidden away and those who are victims see it as something shameful which they are reluctant to talk about. We must confront this issue, get it out of the shadows and make it clear it is never acceptable to mistreat an older person." Minister Barry said the research will help to influence the government’s wider work around family violence.

Further resources

New Zealand:

Elder abuse and neglect: a selected bibliography by the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, University of Auckland (August 2012).


The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women (VAWnet) have published a Special Collection: Preventing and Responding to Domestic & Sexual Violence in Later Life (June 2015). The Collection brings together selected materials related to preventing and responding to elder abuse, specifically domestic and sexual violence.


Parliament Question 12 - Scott Simpson to the Minister for Senior Citizens, YouTube, 17.06.2015

Image: Pixabay