June 15, 2020 marked the World Health Organization’s designation of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, to publicize the widespread abuse of older adults and raise awareness for the great need for social and legal services to help elders living with abuse.

According to the WHO, 15.7% of all people over 60 worldwide suffer from abuse and neglect. In Israel, research found that a higher percentage - 18.4% - of people over 60 suffer regularly from abuse and neglect on the part of family members, caretakers. and others with whom the older adult has a relationship of trust. The abuse takes a variety of forms, including physical and emotional abuse; financial abuse; and severe neglect. All of these can cause significant suffering and pain while greatly affecting the older adults’ quality of life and basic rights.

MARVA’s signature program, Legal Aid to Prevent Elder Abuse, was established to address this large-scale crisis. In cooperation with more than 40 Israeli municipalities, MARVA works with thousands of at-risk older adults who are caught in a cycle of abuse and neglect, assisting them with legal services while facilitating therapeutic support, when necessary, for family members or others who are perpetrating the abuse. MARVA also provides ongoing legal training and seminars for attorneys, social workers, municipal welfare workers, medical professionals, and others, as well as providing information sessions for older adults and their families.

Under COVID-19, family abuse has worsened. Current studies show that elder abuse has increased under shelter-at-home requirements due to the pandemic. Older adults who would otherwise be out of the house at senior day programs have been restricted to their homes, spending their days within four walls with family members and others who are abusive and even violent. The public health crisis has caused a huge spike in elder abuse cases, as reflected by increased numbers of complaints reaching welfare offices around the country. To address this, MARVA’s attorneys and social workers are active on municipal multi-disciplinary committees that handle difficult welfare cases, providing expert legal advice and helping the welfare departments intervene to provide both legal redress and therapeutic support when appropriate. The committees have been continuing their work throughout this period using online meeting platforms, and MARVA meets online with families and others to provide legal counsel and, when necessary, support for court cases.

In just one example of a case handled by MARVA, an elderly couple, both of them physically unwell, have an adult son with mental illness who lives with them and abuses them emotionally and physically. MARVA, in cooperation with the municipal welfare committee, arranged for a court order to keep the son away from the parents’ home, while providing therapeutic support for the son, to help him deal with his mental illness, as well as for the parents, to help them cope and continue to keep their son out of their home.

For more information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, click here.