Abuse of people with disabilities

Abuse of people with disabilities

Abuse is anything that causes harm to an individual. Abuse can be physical, sexual, psychological/emotional, neglect or economic/financial. Abuse of people with disabilities, like all forms of abuse, is an abuse of power and control.

Abuse of people with disabilities can involve systemic abuse which can happen in settings where other people are making decisions for the person who has a disability. Government bodies and bureaucrats can also be involved in systemic abuse. Institutional abuse is a form of systemic abuse in institutional settings where power imbalances often exist between service providers and people they serve.

Common Questions

I suspect my elderly neighbour is being abused and neglected by her son and daughter-in-law who live with her. What can I do?

Elder abuse can take many different forms, such as physical abuse, financial abuse, mental abuse, and neglect. Elder abuse is often a crime, such as assault, fraud, or withholding food or other necessities of life. If you suspect elder abuse, you can call the police or a social service agency. If you tell the police you want to stay anonymous, they will not tell your neighbour or the alleged abusers who called them.

For information on reporting elder abuse see: What are the rules about reporting elder abuse?

What are the rules about reporting elder abuse?

This answer is taken from CLEO’s On the Radar – June 2013. 

Long-term care homes and retirement homes

Reporting abuse is mandatory when the victim lives in a long-term care home or a retirement home. (For an explanation of these terms, see CLEO’s On the Radar bulletin from June 2012.)

The law requires reporting by anyone who knows or has reasonable grounds to suspect that a resident has been, or might be, harmed by any of the following:

  • improper or incompetent treatment or care,
  • abuse of a resident by anyone,
  • neglect of a resident by a staff member or the owner of the home,
  • illegal conduct,
  • misuse or fraud involving a resident’s money, or
  • misuse or fraud involving funding provided by the government to the home (long-term care homes only).

This obligation to report applies to everyone except other residents of the home. Members of regulated health care professions, social workers, and naturopaths must report even if the information is otherwise confidential.

How to report

If the victim lives in a long-term care home, the abuse must be reported to the Director at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This can be done by calling the toll-free ACTION Line at 1-866-434-0144.

If the victim lives in a retirement home, the abuse must be reported to the Registrar of the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority. This can be done by calling 1-855-275-7472 (1-855-ASK-RHRA).

The Director or the Registrar must look into all reports of abuse, and must send an inspector to the home immediately if the report is about harm or risk of harm due to:

  • improper or incompetent treatment or care,
  • abuse of a resident by anyone,
  • neglect of a resident by a staff member or the owner of the home, or
  • illegal conduct.

The operator of the home is also required to immediately contact the police if there is an alleged, suspected, or witnessed incident of abuse or neglect of a resident that may be a crime.

Other settings

If the victim of elder abuse lives in their own home or in any other setting, the law does not require anyone to report the abuse. In some cases, reporting might be required by someone’s employment duties, a contract for services, or a professional code of ethics.

But victims, or anyone else who suspects elder abuse, can report their concerns to the police, health or social services, or a legal service. No matter where cases of abuse and serious neglect happen, these may be crimes and should be reported to the police.

There are also situations where reporting, although not mandatory, is exempted from what would otherwise be a duty of confidentiality. For example, health care providers may disclose confidential information to the Ontario Public Guardian and Trustee when that office is investigating allegations of serious personal or financial harm. And lawyers may, but are not required to, disclose confidential information to avoid an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.

Facts about elder abuse

Whether voluntary or mandatory, reporting is no guarantee that the abuse will be confirmed or stopped, or that the underlying problems that led to the abuse will be solved.

There are many different kinds of elder abuse, and many different ways to help. Depending on the situation, responses other than reporting may be appropriate as well.

For more information about identifying and responding to elder abuse, see the resources listed below.

For more information and help

Abuse and Family Violence
Abuse and Family Violence