Sheffield overwhelmingly supports older people ‘hate crime’ law

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People in Sheffield are overwhelmingly in favour of tougher legal penalties for criminals who abuse older people, new research by Action on Elder Abuse shows.

Almost 99% think there should be tougher sentences for those who commit crimes against older people

32% assumed crimes targeting older people must already be classed as aggravated and another 63% thought they ought to be

Only 3% of people thought crimes against older people should NOT be reclassified as aggravated crimes

98% think older people are specifically targeted for abuse due to their perceived physical frailty or mental vulnerability.

92% think the government does not do enough to support older victims of crime

The recent poll – released to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (15th June) – also showed that nationally, more than 95% of respondents across the UK support elder abuse being made a hate crime.

Such a law change would see crimes against older people treated as seriously as offences where the victim is targeted for personal characteristics such as their race, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

This would see more cases of elder abuse reach the courts, while mandatory sentencing guidelines would result in tougher punishments. Currently, older victims of crime – often targeted due to their perceived physical or mental vulnerability – receive no special statutory protections in criminal law in any part of the UK.

Nationally, the survey also showed that:

96% of people think perpetrators of abuse against older people should receive tougher sentences than those typically handed down by courts at present, such as community service or suspended sentences.

95% of people agreed (40%) or strongly agreed (55%) that older people are specifically targeted for abuse due to their perceived physical frailty or mental vulnerability.

Just one in 12 people (8.5%) thinks the government does enough to support older victims of crime.

Support for elder abuse being made an aggravated offence was consistent across the UK – in Scotland (95%), Wales (94%) and Northern Ireland (95%) as well as all regions of England.

Academic research estimates that 465,000 people aged 65 and over are victims of some form of abuse each year, ranging from physical beatings to sustained psychological torment, financial deceit and even rape. While cases of abuse by professional carers and in care homes are on the rise, the majority of these crimes occurs in people’s own homes – often carried out by someone known to the victim.

Despite this, recent analysis by Action on Elder Abuse has shown that just 0.7% (3,012) of these cases resulted in a successful criminal conviction in 2015/16, meaning it is likely that 99% of those who commit crimes against older people are not punished.

Action on Elder Abuse’s Chief Executive, Gary FitzGerald, said: “These findings show the overwhelming level of support there is across the UK for tougher laws to protect our older people from what are appalling crimes.

“We know that hundreds of thousands of older people are the victims of horrific acts of violence, sexual assault, fraud and neglect every year. But right now, only a tiny fraction of offences are reaching courts and, even when they do, offenders are too often escaping with paltry fines or soft suspended sentences. This is creating a climate that says to people: if you abuse an older person, you’re more than likely to get away with it. It has to stop.

One of the reasons it is imperative that crimes against older people become aggravated offences is both the way older people are targeted by criminals and the impact these crimes have. Mr FitzGerald added: “Other hate crimes are prosecuted as aggravated offences because there is a recognition that the victim has been targeted because of who they are. And older people are definitely targeted because of their age and the fact that physical infirmity or diminished mental capacity makes them easy targets.

“What’s more, the impact of crime on an older victim can be much more severe than with younger people, because the immune system is affected by age. Even a crime like a theft can send them into a spiral of decline that can lead to their death.

“This is why we need a much stronger deterrent. People need to know that if you prey on an older person, you’ll receive a significant custodial sentence.”

And he added that it was interesting that nearly a third of the survey respondents were under the mistaken impression that elder abuse is already an aggravated offence like hate crimes.

He concluded: “This is such an obvious step governments across the UK can take to help keep older people safe, it’s no wonder so many people think these measures have already been put in place. But they haven’t, and they need to be.

“It’s time to turn the tide of abuse. This has to start with laws that show we won’t allow crimes against some of the most vulnerable members of our society to go unpunished. The time for action is now.”