A charity has called for a specific offence of elder abuse to help protect older people from being exploited.
Action on Elder Abuse Scotland director Lesley Carcary told MSPs that most abuse of older people is carried out by family members and is split roughly equally between spouses and adult children.
She called for a change in the law to so people are aware that such actions are illegal.
“We really want to send a message to perpetrators, just because you’re stealing from your mum doesn’t mean it’s not criminal,” she said.
“We estimate that around 9% of over-65s in Scotland have experienced some form of elder abuse, which may include physical, sexual, financial, psychological or neglect.
“We would say that this 9% is very likely to be only the tip of the iceberg because from our experience many older people are very reluctant to speak, so we believe that the extent of elder abuse is actually much higher than that.”
She added: “We do feel a lot more needs to be done to criminalise this type of behaviour so that there is a real deterrent and so that children or other family members who are thinking of doing this will think twice.”
She told the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee that a three-step legislative approach could be taken, with the creation of a specific offence of elder abuse, a statutory aggravation based on vulnerability – in line with those which exist for race and religious prejudice – and a hate crime of hostility based on age.
Questioned on how to define elder abuse, Ms Carcary said there are “tensions about putting a number on it” but stressed she believes older people are deliberately victimised and seen by some as an “easy target”.
The committee also heard from chief inspector of adult services at the Care Inspectorate, Gordon Paterson, who said: “I think there are real challenges around this and I think the questions are not about chronological age but the fact that people, at times in their lives, have degrees of vulnerability, frailty, and infirmity and that’s what can be preyed on by people who are choosing to target them.”
He said “nothing magical” happens on a person’s 65th birthday and that some 64-year-olds are as vulnerable as people that are 84, adding: “50 years ago. 65 was quite elderly and now 75 is not at all elderly”.
Police Scotland Chief Superintendent John McKenzie told the committee he believed there is “significant under-reporting” of abuse based on age or vulnerability.
Head of policy at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) Anthony McGeehan, said figures from his organisation suggest there were between 400-550 crimes with a victim aged 60 or over reported to the COPFS each year between April 2016 and December 2018.
He said there were roughly equally split between having a principle charge of violence, sexual offence, abusive behaviour at 28%, 25%, 22% respectively, with 5% relating to a principle charge of dishonesty.
He said a “significant proportion” of these offences are domestic abuse.
Mr McGeehan told the committee the COPFS has a “robust” approach to such offences with a presumption of prosecution where there is a sufficiency of evidence.
Classifying offences based on age as a hate crime was one of the recommendations Lord Bracadale made in his review of hate crime legislation last year.
A Scottish Government consultation on the recommendations closed on Sunday and the responses to this will help shape a hate crime bill due to be laid before the Scottish Parliament by September.