Helping Women Speak Out on Elder Abuse
For many seniors, elder abuse is a difficult topic to discuss. Because most seniors who are affected by abuse often know and trust the person mistreating them, they may feel ashamed or embarrassed to tell anyone about it. In order to provide women with a safe and open environment to talk about elder abuse, Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto (NWST) launched ‘Sister 2 Sister: A Catalyst for Community-Led Elder Abuse Awareness’ with support from the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program (NHSP).
After receiving numerous disclosures of elder abuse and noticing more cases being reported on the local news, the NWST created this leadership training program to teach women how to lead sharing circles and provide information about elder abuse to other seniors in the community.
Maya Roy, a project coordinator for ‘Sister 2 Sister,’ said: “The leadership training was very much about creating an environment that made it safe to actually discuss power imbalances for newcomer seniors, and to even name elder abuse as an issue. It’s a very painful topic for many of our members, so to even have that discussion as a community was the first step in breaking the taboo and silence around the issue.”
Althea Prince has been involved with NWST as a volunteer, sharing circle facilitator, and participant of ‘Sister 2 Sister.’ “I wanted to find out more about the services for seniors in our community. I had read in the media about the abuse of some elders in our community, and was concerned and upset about it. I wanted to hear about the methods of prevention that were going to be discussed,” said Althea.
The leadership training was popular, and Maya said that the demand for training among Mandarin-speaking seniors was even greater than expected. “We had 50 women at the first training and had so many Mandarin-speaking seniors who registered that we actually scheduled a second training in St. Jamestown and had almost 100 Mandarin-speaking seniors who came out.”
“I liked that there was laughter and sharing. It was not morbid or gloomy, and the methods used were carefully thought out. I believe that we all became educated and we certainly came away with a lot of knowledge and confidence,” added Althea.
Shortly after the project started, a group of leaders from ‘Sister 2 Sister’ received media attention for a policy conference they organized at Ryerson University. “We had community organizations and over 150 people learning and hearing seniors’ voices around the issue of elder abuse. The conference was even covered by CBC and City TV,” said Maya.
The abuse experienced by older adults can be hidden or go undetected. It is important that seniors who are being abused have access to information, so that they can make informed decisions and be aware of the help available to them. Talking about elder abuse is one of the first steps towards prevention, and ‘Sister 2 Sister’ provided seniors with the opportunity to create their own space to talk about, deal with, and prevent elder abuse.
The Government of Canada is taking action to increase awareness of this issue through its Elder Abuse Awareness Campaign.
The NHSP is a federal grants and contributions program that supports projects led or inspired by seniors who make a difference in the lives of others and in their communities. The Elder Abuse Awareness objective of the NHSP helps not-for-profit organizations develop national or regional education and awareness activities to reduce elder abuse.