12% who witnessed abuse of vulnerable adult did nothing

Safeguarding Ireland chairwoman Patricia Rickard-Clarke. Picture: Tommy Clancy

One in eight people who witnessed the abuse of a vulnerable adult in the past year did nothing, it has emerged.

Just 15% sought professional advice and only 3% reported the incident to an authority, such as the HSE or gardaí.

Research commissioned by Safeguarding Ireland found that 10% of adults witnessed adults being abused in the past year.

The Red C research found that 12% of those who witnessed the abuse of a vulnerable adult in the past year did nothing at all. 

Just under half (47%) discussed it with the person being abused, while 40% discussed it with a trusted person. 

Most agreed (81%) that tougher laws would encourage them to take greater action to combat abuse.

The research found that younger people and those from higher social groups were more likely to report abuse.

Safeguarding Ireland said the research highlighted the need for effective legislation and a 24-hour information and support helpline.

The organisation was established in December 2015, in response to a number of high-profile safeguarding issues, with the support of the HSE and the Government.

Chairwoman Patricia Rickard Clarke said that the 10,000 alleged abuse cases reported annually to the HSE were just the tip of the iceberg. 

With an adult population of 3.8m, it was possible that 380,000 people witnessed adult abuse every year.

“The message from this research is clear,” said Ms Rickard Clarke. “We need tougher laws to support people to take action and to call out abuse of vulnerable adults. 

When a vulnerable, or frail elderly, person is forced to do something against their will — be it to do with their finances, their care, or their liberty — it is abuse and this is against the law.”

Legislation on Assisted Decision Making was enacted in 2015, but has yet to be implemented. 

The Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017, which is before the Senate, provides for mandatory reporting where an adult has suffered abuse or harm or is at risk of suffering abuse or harm.

The private members’ bill also establishes a national adult safeguarding authority that will be required to respond effectively if significant concerns are reported.

“The research has told us that stronger laws, which are enforced, are what will drive the public to be more vigilant in tackling adult abuse. We need these pieces of legislation in force with urgency,” said Ms Rickard Clarke.

A nationwide public awareness campaign on safeguarding will take place from May 20-31. 

Contact the HSE’s social work service if you have a concern about a vulnerable adult who may be at risk of abuse.

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