On the road to fight elder abuse


The Purple Road currently measures four metres in length. Photo: WA Department of Communities.

Kwinana and Rockingham are the latest communities to tackle elder abuse as part of an arts project known as the Purple Road.

Residents, directly or indirectly affected by elder abuse, have been urged to contribute to the project by attaching crocheted flowers onto a piece of fabric to create the ‘road’.

The project was first established in 2015 by volunteers from the Older People’s Peer Education Scheme, a partnership between the Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre and SCALES Community Legal Centre.

NSCLC manager Karen Merrin said the abuse the centre dealt with was focused on elder people being taken advantage of by family, friends or carers behind closed doors, and started the project to make people aware of this type of abuse.

“We started doing them around the table at lunchtime, but we were all very busy so it ended up in a cupboard,” she said.

“Then when we applied for this funding, the Older People’s Peer Education Scheme. We trained the educators and they were looking for something to connect them to their communities.

“They wanted a tool and they discovered that we had started this and off they went, that’s how it’s grown.”

In 2015-16, the National Elder Annual Report showed more than 37 per cent of elder abuse cases were of a financial nature while 36 per cent of cases were psychological.

The Purple Road has acted as an awareness campaign to educate people on the risks of elder abuse and provide strategies to prevent the issue through art, with each flower representing someone’s story.

The project has already been a success in some local government areas including Joondalup, Stirling and Wanneroo, while work on the second road is currently underway.

In 2014, Advocare launched a State Government funded elder abuse hotline which received more than 500 calls in its first year.

Advocare acting chief executive officer Deborah Costello said elder abuse often remained hidden because older people were worried about the impact legal action might have on family relationships.

“It’s hard for an older person to know what are their actual options and how far can they take things,” she said.

“We don’t often hear about these things until a lot of damage and harm has already been done.”

A study by the University of Western Australia showed one in 20 older people in the state would experience some form of abuse.

While there is recognition of the need for systematic research there is limited nationwide data on elder abuse, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Ms Costello said elder abuse was an under-researched area compared to other forms of abuse.

“What we’d like to see happen is a national, rigorous, prevalent study done, because at the moment no agency can really say how common elder abuse actually is,” she said.

“This is a really difficult topic to talk about so I think what this group of people have done is found a way to bring a really sensitive topic to the surface.

“You need local community action like this and you also need the government to step in and provide funding and develop programs.”

Along with the Purple Road, a project kit is set to be developed so the OPPES program can be rolled out across the state.

WA Seniors and Ageing Minister Mick Murray said the Purple Road was a powerful visual to start the discussion about elder abuse.

“Offering Western Australians the opportunity to talk about a hidden topic through a creative medium helps people open up and destigmatise a very private issue,” he said.

“Elder abuse is a complex issue that needs to be addressed by the entire community.”

Ms Merrin said she hoped the project would extend beyond the five local government areas the NSCLC is working in.

“We just hope to keep this growing and hopefully in the long term we’ll be able to use it as a big tool,” she said.

“We’d like to take it to the rest of Western Australia and probably Australia.”