In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Elder Abuse

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • General Texts
  • Definitions
  • Theory and Criminological History
  • Following from Child and Spouse Victimization
  • Types of Victimization: Financial and Psychological Impact
  • Disclosure and Reporting
  • Prevention and Intervention
  • Global Aging: Future Directions

Criminology Elder Abuse
Preeti Nijhar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0309


Criminological concerns with the victimization of the elderly has developed parallel to, and independently of, the elder abuse debate. Criminologists have traditionally been concerned with the commission of acts against the older person in public as opposed to private space. A further hindrance to criminological enquiry is the practice of defining elder abuse in terms of victim needs, rather than of basic human rights. There has been no neat evolutionary process from positive treatment of the elderly, attributed to some golden age in the past to their increasing present victimization rates globally. Elder victimization is a long way from the simplistic notions of “granny battering.” There is general agreement among scholars that older people regularly suffer victimization in private space—in the household and in care institutions. They regularly experience multiple forms of abuse. One can attribute some of these experiences to major social changes as declining family support for older people diminishes and the proportion of young to old decreases. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that as the global population ages, the number of people aged sixty years and older is estimated to reach 1.2 billion worldwide by 2025. More pointedly, the longevity is also inextricably linked to the maltreatment of the global old. In particular, we have seen offenders apprehended in transgressions against the young, women, and ethnic minorities but have yet to see an active criminal justice response concerned with the experience of elder victimization. The discipline’s reluctance to recognize elder victimization is associated with it commonly being labeled as victimization by intimates, and to be understood through the lenses of psychology and psychiatry rather than through a criminal justice model. Care and individual needs of the elderly have been the traditional focus, rather than social justice, reason, and rights. Justice and rights involve choice and free will. Older people are not simply passive recipients of other people’s actions—they resist their victimization and often fight back. This article is a critical exposition of the sources available on elders abused as part of a larger account of the experience of older people worldwide. In particular, the reader is reminded that this article is limited due to publishing word constraints. Therefore, it provides a balanced, limited overview of the major literature and research available in the Western context. More pointedly, the literature cited here is intended to reflect on recent scholarship considered to have the potential of adding to the debate in criminology and elder victimization. Given that the study of elder abuse is still in its infancy in the discipline of criminology, this article is therefore necessarily interdisciplinary.


In criminology, there are a limited number of works that discuss elder abuse in detail. Brogden and Nijhar 2000 is the first publication to provide a detailed theoretical and methodological account on the abuse against the elderly. Drawing upon a wealth of research from British and North American sources, the authors broke new ground in its focus on the experiences of elderly people as criminal victims in private space. The study was later followed by a collection of essays addressing theory and research on elder abuse with the publication of Wahidin and Cain 2006. As such, the earlier research on elder victimization has explored the issues through specific sites, moments, practices, techniques, and technologies as pertaining to psychiatry and psychology. To address the gap in criminology, Wahidin and Cain had to draw upon criminology and gerontology, as well as law and social policy, to help understand this complex and under-studied area. Despite the severity of its consequences, major gaps still remain in quantifying the prevalence and incidence of elder victimization—locally, nationally, and internationally. More pointedly, there have been repeated calls for a consensus in defining elder victimization. This is a contentious terrain. In particular, what constitutes rights of the old and quality of life issues in one culture may not be commensurate in a second culture. Cultures are distinct. Given that there are regional variations, we need to address country- and culture-specific social norms to our analysis to understand what governs family dynamics and expectations of the old around the globe. For instance, in China, for the elderly victims, abuse and neglect centers around disappointment and unhappiness in family matters as there is very little state support for the elderly as they reach the end of their lives. In a recent survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit assessing end-of-life care provided in eighty countries around the world, China featured in the bottom ten, due to its lack of hospice facilities, unaffordable hospital care, and lack of community and family support for the elderly. Similarly, victimization studies are hampered by the lack of evidence on how different ethnic minority groups define and manifest victimization of their elders. It is also silent on the personal experiences of those being victimized, of what it means to grow old in their respective countries as well as within one’s own community in the Western and non-Western world.

  • Brogden, M., and P. Nijhar. 2000. Crime, abuse and the elderly. Cullompton, UK: Willan.

    The first study to examine and analyze the experiences of older people as both victims and perpetrators of crime. The authors urge criminologists to start a proper dialogue with crimes involving the elderly and their victimization and emphasize the study of elder victimization should be addressed through the lens of social justice, reason, and rights.

  • Wahidin, A., and M. Cain, eds. 2006. Ageing, crime and society. Cullompton, UK: Willan.

    The collection of essays in this book brings together a group of leading authorities to address key issues on the subject of crime and aging. Its main focus centers on older people as both victims and sometimes as perpetrators of crime.

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