Synagogues warned by Jewish Care of ‘elder abuse’
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Synagogues warned by Jewish Care of ‘elder abuse’

A “shocking” case of abuse of an older person that began in a shul, has prompted a Jewish charity to write to London shuls warning of its “prevalence behind front doors”

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

A “shocking” case of abuse of an older person that began in a synagogue environment has prompted Britain’s largest Jewish charity to write to every London shul warning of its “prevalence behind front doors”.

Details cannot yet be reported because it is currently under criminal investigation, but the nature of the abuse has been described by Jewish Care as “one of the most severe our community support and social work team has ever seen”.

It is understood to involve a family “befriending” an elderly couple in synagogue, beginning with meal invitations and ending, eventually, to the inappropriate transfer of property and funds once trust had been built.

The charity’s chief executive, Daniel Carmel-Brown, is this week writing an open letter to all synagogues in the south-east to raise awareness of the issue of abuse of older people, outlining how Jewish Care is working with Jewish Women’s Aid and Action on Elder Abuse, and feels “compelled to raise awareness of this issue”.

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Jewish Care’s safeguarding chief Barbara Jacobson said this week that people must not think this is “something that only happens in care homes… The truth is its prevalence is behind front doors, right across the community, and the abusers are often closely associated with the victim”.

Abuse of an elderly person can take many forms, including financial, physical, sexual or psychological abuse, or neglect. The charity said it had been alerted to several instances whereby “the intent was not to abuse, but the effect was abusive”.

One instance involved an elderly married Jewish couple. The husband had been locking his wife in the home when he went out to shop because she had dementia and a history of “wandering off” when he was not there. His action was intended to protect her, but nevertheless constituted neglect.

“[He] was struggling to care for her,” the charity said, after the couple’s daughter contacted them, concerned that her mother’s needs were not being met, reporting bad smells in the house and evidence of faeces on the floor.

“Since contacting us we have been able to support the family. [The husband] was struggling to cope. His wife now lives in a care home where she receives the support and care she needs, and he visits regularly.”

In another instance, an elderly Jewish lady asked her nephew to help her with her finances, but he became aggressive when she tried to talk to him and sacked her accountant, replacing them with one of his own choosing. She was left unable to ask about her own money, fearing he would become physically aggressive if she did.

Daniel Carmel-Brown of Jewish Care

“It is difficult for society to accept that older people experience abuse, just as 20 years ago there was reluctance to accept child abuse,” said Jacobson.

“It is particularly difficult to accept that much elder abuse is perpetrated by family members.

“The Jewish community is not exempt from this. Abuse of older people is happening across our community, just as it is across every other community.”

Carmel-Brown said: “A member of the community taking in an older or vulnerable person can look like an act of pure kindness – a mitzvah – but there is a risk, and an increased one, if the older person doesn’t have family connections that what appears to be an act of kindness could be abuse.”

In 2007 Action on Elder Abuse produced the UK Study of Abuse and Neglect, which found that one in every 24 older people suffered psychological abuse, and one in every 33 suffered neglect. However, Jewish Care said it had “seen a gradual increase in financial abuse” as well.

Carmel-Brown added: “Most people in our community support older and vulnerable people for the right reasons and we do not want this great work to stop.

“But some people have ulterior motives. They are often very skilled at covering these motives up, so what you see on the outside isn’t what goes on behind closed doors.”

The shocking case that prompted this week’s campaign, he said, was “not the first case, nor sadly will it be the last, of abuse of older people in our community”.

What is Financial Abuse?

Whereas newspapers focus on internet or phone scams targeting older people, Jewish Care said it had seen “a gradual increase in financial abuse from within families”. This often occurs when friends or family put pressure on older people to make financial decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make.

Signs of financial abuse may include: a lack of money for necessities such as food, heating or clothes, despite an adequate income; an inability to explain what is happening to their income; unexplained withdrawals, or changes in patterns or withdrawals from bank accounts; reluctance from the person controlling funds to pay for things; and/or the disappearance of possessions or financial documents.

How you can seek Help

If you are experiencing abuse of any kind by a partner or someone you are intimate with, Jewish Women’s Aid can help. Call in confidence on 0808 801 0500

Action on Elder Abuse provides specialist advice, information and support on all aspects of abuse of older people.

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