Bonnie, a quietly-spoken 86-year-old, was being financially and emotionally abused by her grandson Joshua. Years earlier, Joshua had convinced Bonnie to transfer ownership of her home to him, stating “I’ll get it when you die anyway”. Unbeknownst to Bonnie, Joshua had a large debt with the Child Support Agency and her home was at risk of being sold. Recently, Bonnie had invited Joshua to move into the house with her when he had nowhere else to go. Within days of Joshua moving in Bonnie’s neighbour became concerned by Joshua’s behaviour which included verbal abuse, threats and intimidation on top of the financial abuse.
Because Bonnie’s relationship with Joshua was both a family and an informal care relationship the abuse was covered by the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (Qld). Under this law, a magistrate can require the violent or threatening person to be of good behaviour and not commit further acts of domestic violence, to not contact the person they are abusing or to leave a shared residence.
It is common for older people who access the Seniors Legal and Support Service (SLASS) to feel guilty for taking steps to protect themselves, however it is essential that older people know that there are supports available to them and that they have the right to prioritise their own safety and wellbeing.
If you are feeling threatened, asking the following questions may help with decision-making about what to do:
• If I do nothing, will the abuse stop?
• If it does stop, will I always worry that it will start again?
• Is it safe to stay in the house or do I need to get out?
• If I need to leave, have I sought advice and do I have a plan?
• Where will I go for help?
SLASS is available to assist in situations like this and can be reached on (07) 3214 6333. Fortunately, Bonnie’s neighbour contacted SLASS to express her concern.
As a matter of priority, a SLASS social worker and lawyer team visited Bonnie at home and provided advice about domestic violence. Police intervened and were successful in applying for an order requiring Joshua to move out of the property.
The SLASS social worker supported Bonnie to deal with her feelings of anxiety and guilt though out this process, highlighting the direct consequences resulting from Joshua’s destructive behaviour. The social worker also helped Bonnie accept that she was not responsible for her experience of abuse. The SLASS lawyer built on Caxton’s strong referral relationships to arrange pro bono legal representation for Bonnie to assert her legal right to her property and take steps to stop it from being sold out from underneath her.
Bonnie is now relieved to be safe from the harm caused by Joshua’s abuse and, although anxious about her ongoing legal matter, extremely grateful for the help provided by the SLASS service.