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The abuse of elderly LGBTQ+ in care homes: we must proactively defend human rights

Kathryn Holland, Safeguarding Lead 24 November 2023

As we near the end of Safeguarding Adults Week, Kathryn Holland explains why advocates must be proactive defenders of human rights.

Discriminatory abuse constitutes just 1% of all Section 42 safeguarding enquiries. A new report by the charity Compassion in Care into the abuse of elderly LGBTQ+ people in care homes suggests that the low figures may have less to do with prevalence and everything to do with the hidden nature of this abuse.

We live in worrying times. Hate crime against LGBTQ+ people is on the rise, having risen every year since 2015. Living in fear of abuse eats away at every aspect of your life, impacting on the decisions you make and the choices you have. 

So imagine feeling that fear in your own home, the place where you live, and from the very people whose role it is to protect and care for you. According to the report, the abuse of elderly LGBTQ+ people in care homes is widespread, leading many to fear living in a care home, and those who do, hiding their identity out of fear of being exposed. 

But if the fear of being outed in a care home is driving many older people back into the closet, with all the harm and destruction this causes, it follows that it will make it harder to spot this abuse. 

The role of the advocate is to protect voice and rights. The Equality Act protects against discrimination on the basis of sex, gender reassignment and sexual orientation. The Human Rights Act protects the right to freedom of thought, religion and belief (Article 9), freedom of expression (Article 10) and the right to be free from torture and inhumane treatment (Article 3).

It seems clear from findings such as this that we cannot afford to be passive, defending rights abuses only when they jump out and hit us squarely on the nose. They might not. A person living in a care home who is experiencing abuse because of their gender or sexuality might be too afraid to tell anyone. To defend rights, we must be proactive. 

This means being vocal about the human rights that people have. Not just asking the person if they feel safe, but explaining what safe should look like, and the care and treatment they have a right to expect. And. importantly, making sure that we are building the kind of advocacy relationships, where the advocate is seen for what they are; independent, non judgemental, a rights defender and on the person’s side.