As many as 380,000 adults in Ireland have witnessed the abuse of a vulnerable adult in the last year, but just 3% of these reported what they saw to an authority such as the Gardaí or HSE, new research has found.
According to the findings, 10% of adults have witnessed abuse in the past year and among these, 47% discussed it with the person being abused, 40% discussed it with a trusted person, while 12% did nothing at all.
The research was commissioned by Safeguarding Ireland, which is a coalition of national organisations in the health, social and financial sectors, that work together to protect vulnerable adults.
It noted that 81% of people said that tougher laws would encourage them to take greater action to combat abuse. Overall, just 15% of those who witnessed abuse sought professional advice, while only 3% reported it to an authority.
"The fact that 10% of Irish adults reported having witnessed abuse shows that official HSE figures (in excess of 10,000 alleged cases reported annually) are just the tip of the iceberg. Based on our adult population of approximately 3.8 million, this would imply an estimate of potentially 380,000 witnessed cases of adult abuse per annum," explained Safeguarding Ireland chairperson, Patricia Rickard Clarke.
She said that the message from this research is clear - tougher laws are needed to support people to take action and to call out the abuse of vulnerable adults.
"When a vulnerable or frail elderly person is forced to do something against their will, beit to do with their finances, their care, or their liberty, it is abuse and this is against the law," Ms Rickard Clarke pointed out.
She noted that in 2015, new legislation on assisted decision making was enacted, however it has yet to be implemented. There is also an Adult Safeguarding Bill in ongoing development in the Oireachtas since 2017.
"The research has told us that stronger laws, which are enforced, is what will drive the public to be more vigilant in tackling adult abuse. We need these pieces of legislation in force with urgency," Ms Rickard Clarke commented.
The research noted that younger adults and those from higher socioeconomic groups were more likely to report abuse that they had witnessed.
Meanwhile, 82% of respondents said that they would find a dedicated 24-hour Safeguarding telephone helpline service very or quite helpful.
"We have important services and supports provided across the country by the HSE safeguarding and protection teams. It is clear that this work would be complemented through resourcing a dedicated safeguarding 24-hour helpline, which would be an initial ‘go to' for people when they have witnessed or suspect abuse," Ms Rickard Clarke said.
In an effort to tackle this issue, Safeguarding Ireland is running a nationwide public awareness campaign from May 20-31.
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