Saturday, February 19, 2022



“My daughter-in-law keeps on making appointments for me to have a brain scan,” my elderly client tells me, his voice shaking. “I refuse to go. That’s what she did with her father. She had him declared incapable, took over his affairs and took all his money. I know that there is nothing wrong with me and I’m not going to let that happen to me. But ever since I’ve said no, she refuses to allow my granddaughters to visit me. Those girls are the light of my life. I’m so lonely.” 

I console him by a reference to the ancient playwright Sophocles, who was dragged before the courts by his children at the venerable age of ninety on the charge of “paranoia,” alleging that he had a form of dementia that rendered him incapable of managing his financial affairs. Sophocles refuted their arguments and thus retained control of his affairs by reading out to the assembled jury, some verses from the play he was currently drafting: “Oedipus at Colonus.” “Is this the work of someone who has lost his mind?” he addressed the jury. My client is not a playwright. He is a retired factory worker. And he now lives in a constant state of fear. 

I visit Mr Stavro in his home, yet it isn’t it home. There is a wire mesh fence surrounding the towering brick edifice he built with his own hands. Through a door at the side, a fenced corridor leads to a mouldering asbestos roofed shed at the rear. Even the back garden around the shed is fenced off. The whole place has the feel of a penitentiary. Mr Stavro greets me at the shed door and ushers me inside. A single naked globe hangs from the ceiling. On a bench swollen with damp, he prepares his dinner. His bed, a rusty camp bed from the sixties lies opposite. He gestures outside. “I built that place with my own hands. I was a builder for years you see and good with my hands. There was nothing I couldn’t make. My wife and I had only one son. After my wife died, he and his family came to live with me. All these years we had a good relationship. But as soon as he moved in, he and his wife started complaining that the house was too small, it was too crowded and I didn’t need all the space I was taking up. Then they stopped talking to me. They stopped preparing food for me and when I would prepare my own food, they stopped shopping for me. One day I came home from the shops and they had changed the locks. Then they put up this fence. I’m so glad my wife isn’t alive to see this.” 

“Can you come over?” kyria Stella asks. “My son wants me to sign mortgage papers so I can take out a loan and feed the money into his business. But I’ve already given him my other house and all of my money and he has wasted it. This is my only home. I don’t want to lose it. Come over so at least when I sign the papers, I won’t be alone with him.” 

“Don’t sign anything,” I advise her. “Tell him to leave the papers with you so you can get legal advice. I cannot and will not give you legal advice in his presence.” 

“No, I can’t do that,” kyria Stella begins to sob. “He will beat me.” 

“You know I can’t go on holidays,” John complains. “Every time I do, my sister goes around to my mum’s and empties her bank account and messes around with her pills. When I got back from Queensland a few years ago, we found mum in a coma. She hadn’t had her insulin. My sister hadn’t been to see her all the time we were away. Then we discovered the title to the house was missing and that’s when all the trouble began.” 

“My son keeps emptying my bank account to pay his bills. He doesn’t ask me, he just takes the money. Now he is refusing to go shopping for me or to visit me unless I give him money to buy my granddaughter a new car. I’m too frightened to go to the bank to restrict his access because then he won’t visit me. Though when he does visit, all he does is take things from the house, scream at me and ask for more money.” 

“My daughter and her husband came here, through out all my furniture and confined me to this room. They have rented the rest of the house to another family. They don’t speak Greek and they completely ignore me. My daughter takes the rent and my pension money. I’m trapped inside my own home. I don’t want to live anymore.  I pray that Death come take me, every day.” 

“I should have strangled him at birth. He forged my signature on this loan agreement without telling me and didn’t pay back the money. Now the sheriff has come round to tell me that I have one month to leave the house. Where am I supposed to go now in my eighties? Yes, I should report him to the police but I worry about my grandchildren.” 

Not a week goes by that I am not consulted by a member of our community with concerns about elder abuse. Most of the time, the person consulting me is a concerned family member or friend. Sometimes, it is the elders themselves, timidly, via telephone or during at home consultations when they know that their tormentors are otherwise engaged. Almost always they are despondent. They feel hurt, betrayed and bewildered by the treatment inflicted upon them by their loved ones. Those that are victims of physical violence always allude to this in indirect terms, pleading that they describe their plight upon the condition that this remains a secret because as much as they live in fear, they do not wish any evil to befall their tormentors. More generally however, it is the psychological abuse that is the hardest to endure, the enforced loneliness, the targeted isolation from grandchildren, the manifest contempt that accompanies every begrudging communication. And at the root of this all: The desire for money and the desire for control. 

Our elders are longer lived now than ever before. As they traverse the twilight of their lives, the members of this hallowed first generation deserve the honour that is their due. It was these brave pioneers that arrived in this country and worked ceaselessly under the most difficult of social and financial conditions to establish themselves and create Greek community institutions. They did not always get it right. They could not be and were not all things to all people. Yet their achievements are unsurpassed by those of their children and their bravery knows no bounds. No one deserves this type of treatment, let alone those who deserve our reverence, utmost admiration and tender care. Yet sadly, in many cases, they are seen as sources of revenue, to be extracted at whim, their human dignity completely disregarded. 

The more philosophical of victims blame themselves. “We came here and threw ourselves into making money. We didn’t realise it at the time but we brought up a generation of children that measured the worth of everything by the dollar. We didn’t mean to do it. Back in the village it was a given that we all looked after each other. We just naturally expected that our kids would do the same. But the problem is they never experienced us doing it. All they saw us do is run around trying to bring in an income. We tried to give them what we didn’t have. We spoiled them and failed them. And now we are paying for that failure.” 

“When you are old, no one wants to know you, or cares how you fell”, kyr-Panayioti observes as he finishes signing his Will. “You are like a piece of furniture that people can’t wait to throw out. That is what it is like for us.” While mainstream resources such as the Seniors Rights Vic Helpline (1300368821) which allows for anonymous reporting and provides advice as to how to support victims exist, the social stigma surrounding abuse, as bringing shame to the family and the unspoken convention that Greek families are sacrosanct and one does not intervene in the affairs of a family not one’s own means that while incidences of elder abuse are well known and often widespread within our community, little if any action is taken to confront abusers and to protect the victims. 

Endeavours such as a community-wide Elder Abuse week, frequent information sessions at Greek senior’s clubs informing them about their rights and the pitfalls of being coerced into signing documents they don’t understand or do not wish to sign will go a long way in empowering the vulnerable to stand up for themselves. Most importantly it is incumbent upon all of us, when encountering such situations, not to grant agency to the tormentors through our silence and indifference, but rather to confront them, report them and ensure they face the consequences of their actions. At all stages, we need to have the appropriate resources as a community to comfort and support victims estranged and abused by their loved ones. PRONIA for example, has Family Violence Workers who address such situations and a conversation as to how our combined community institutions can do so, working in a co-ordinated fashion, is well overdue. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 19 February 2022