SURREY — One of the most passionate speakers at an event at Surrey City Hall on Friday to highlight elder abuse wasn’t a senior. In fact, he had to skip out of his classes at his elementary school to attend.
Wearing a shirt and tie and studious glasses, 12-year-old Mohnish Peshin grabbed the microphone and confidently launched into a 10-minute talk delivered without notes at the Creating Meaningful Connections event in council chambers.
The city had convened a panel to speak about the “invisible” crime of elder abuse to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, held annually on June 15.
The B.C. office of the seniors advocate reported this year that Seniors Abuse and Information Line received 1,546 calls related to abuse in 2017, and the bc211 helpline got 300 such calls in 2017/18, both numbers slightly down from previous years.
But there was an 11 per cent increase in violent offences against seniors reported to the RCMP and a 20 per cent increase in physical abuse cases and a 26 per cent increase in financial abuse cases reported to the Vancouver, according to the report.
Mohnish, who’s in Grade 6 at Harry Hoogie elementary in Maple Ridge, said he became interested in the topic after reading about an elderly woman who was abused in a care home in Ontario.
“Many people don’t know about [elder abuse],” he said after his talk to about 100 mostly senior attendees, three of whom shook his hand and thanked him after. “I didn’t know about it.”
He urged everyone to get involved to prevent elder abuses, which could be physical or financial and could happen anywhere.
“Elder abuse can happen to anyone,” he said in his speech, which he had originally written for a class project. “It can happen to us when we get old.”
He suggested people visit seniors regularly and to look for scratches or bruises and unauthorized transactions in accounts.
He said elder abuse is sometimes called an invisible problem because the victims may be too ashamed to report it, unsure they’re being abused or worried they won’t be believed.
Panelists later repeated a familiar theme, that seniors need to speak up if they suspect a senior is being abused physically, financially, emotionally or sexually.
“Don’t be ashamed,” said Surrey RCMP Const. Sukh Chattha-Johal, of the RCMP’s diversity and Indigenous peoples unit. “We have to recognize it and report it. If we don’t know about it, we can’t help you.”
And she said, “Don’t be afraid. We will help. We will treat it as a priority.”
A Surrey Fire Service assistant chief, Shelley Morris, said firefighters, who as first responders usually enter residences unannounced so are in a good position to notice any neglect or abuse, are encouraged to look for signs and report it.
And Linda Annis, who is a Surrey councillor and executive director of Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers, said the agency is better known for street crime but calling anonymously is a good way to report senior abuse.
“We get a lot of tips about elder abuse,” she said. But “it is such an under-reported crime” because victims fear retaliation or want to protect family members.