In the past three years, 8 per cent of all personal protection orders (PPOs) issued each year were taken out by parents against abusive offspring. This is an increase from 6 per cent of all PPOs issued annually in the previous three years.
As the elderly tend to be socially isolated, these PPO numbers may well under-represent the extent of the problem. With a rapidly ageing population in Singapore, elderly abuse looks set to become an increasingly important issue.
Abused parents may be too embarrassed to report the offence, think they will not be believed, or fear being put into a nursing home. They may also not want to alienate their offspring, or fear putting him or her in prison. Who would then perform the final rites when death comes?
Neighbours may also not report elder abuse if they deem the victim a competent adult who can report it if he or she chooses.
Even when reported, delays in reporting could impair the investigation of elder abuse claims. Over time, physical marks of injuries may fade. Also, the abuser may have had time and opportunity to induce or coerce witnesses not to testify against them.
Although elders now represent a growing at-risk group in Singapore, the issue of elder abuse receives scant public attention.
Unlike the advocacy for spousal abuse, that for elder abuse is a mere squeak. Elder abuse victims need help, but the level of awareness of this issue is abysmal, somewhat like that for, say, spousal abuse two decades ago.
Back then, intervention in spousal abuse was hamstrung by a dearth of empirical findings about its causes and also a lack of funding. But advocacy by activists including women's groups like Aware, victims and academics garnered enough public attention that led to policy intervention by the state.
The same is needed for elder abuse today. Sadly, as a society, we have failed to highlight what elder abuse really is: a crime.