Scots overwhelmingly support older people ‘hate crime’ law

editorial image

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

Almost 93% of respondents in Scotland said they would like to see elder abuse made an ‘aggravated offence’ – similar to hate crimes. Making a victim’s age an aggravating factor would mean that the courts would be empowered to hand out tougher sentences.

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.

Across the UK, the poll of 3,000 people 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 the terminology in Scotland is deferred sentences 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.

Action on Elder Abuse’s Scotland Director, Lesley Carcary, said:

“These findings show the overwhelming level of support there is in Scotland 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 deferred 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 and while Scotland is the only part of the UK to have dedicated adult safeguardng legislation - the Adult Support and Protection Act, its powers do not go far enough Ms Carcary added:

“The Adult Support and Protection Act covers the identification of abuse, and supporting and protecting those experiencing it. However crucially, its remit does not extend to prosecution. We need our judicial system to recognise that these are not crimes like any other.

“Older people are 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 she 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.

She 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.”