Eighty-year-old widow Filomena* had no choice. She had to report her only daughter to police for beating her and emotionally abusing her.
“I didn’t want her to end up in court. But what if that was the only way? I had been telling her to stop. Not a day passed that she did not tell me something hurtful or hit me. I never imagined she would do this to me. She bossed me around… She even told me when I could use the toilet in my own home. I couldn’t take it anymore,” said Filomena who wanted to remain anonymous out of a mix of fear and not wanting to expose her daughter.
Filomena is one of the 325 elderly people who have been abused by their adult children over the past three years.
According to data revealed in Parliament some weeks ago, since 2021 568 domestic violence reports have been filed by parents about their children. The reports involved 630 people, 325 of whom were over 60. Court action was taken whenever the reports were backed by evidence, with 461 cases having been instituted.
Sitting at her dining table – surrounded by rosary beads, holy pictures, medicine boxes and family photos – Filomena thinks back to her daughter’s childhood days.
“We were a normal family. She was a sweet child. I never imagined she would behave this way,” says the widow, adding that her daughter had gone through some personal problems.
That was when she moved in with her mother. After some time, she started acting bossy. “She would pick on me for petty things. Once she threw my walking stick at me. She would tell me when to go to the toilet or she would not allow me to go,” she said.
With time, things got worse and the bossy attitude turned into emotional abuse.
“She would tell me things like ‘I hate you’ or ‘I will break down the house’. She blamed me for everything that went wrong… She would not want me to make phone calls. She would hit me from behind… I warned her that this would end up in court if she did not stop.
“Once she hit me so much. With her fists. She hit wherever she could,” she recalls adding that she did fight back.
Once she hit me so much. With her fists. She hit wherever she could
That day, about two years ago, Filomena called the police headquarters. “I told them to come now as I couldn’t take it anymore. She was beating me,” she says. The police turned up and, with the collaboration of social workers from government support agency Appoġġ, they took Filomena to a shelter where she spent a few week.
During that time, her daughter gathered her mother’s belongings and the house lock was changed. A court case was initiated against the daughter.
Abuser becomes abused
Ann Marie Ciantar, Service Manager at the Domestic Violence Service at Appoġġ, explained that adult child-to-parent abuse remained underreported.
“This is on the increase. We think it is due to the fact that baby boomers are aging and, in Malta, we still have a culture of people caring for elderly relatives when not everyone is capable of this responsibility,” she said as she urged people who felt overwhelmed by the responsibility to seek help.
Most cases of abuse were physical, financial and psychological. In most cases the perpetrators were still dependent on their elderly parents. Some had substance abuse problems and others had mental health issues.
Research showed that, in some cases there was violence during childhood and the roles were reversed – the abuser became the abused.
“In these cases it often takes a long time for the person to file the report because they do not want to get their loved one into trouble. Elderly people experience power and control, and fear. Some are bed bound and cannot ask for help. In such cases it’s often the neighbours who speak up,” Ciantar said.
She recalled one case in which a woman’s son was a hoarder and filled her home with rubbish. He did not allow her to get rid of anything and could not stand the sight of his mother.
The elderly mother ended up sleeping in a public garden. Neighbours noticed and helped her file a police report. The son was supported for his mental health problems.
Ciantar said there were also cases of people who neglected their elderly parents who were in care homes and only went to see them to collect the pension money. This was financial abuse.
If you need help, call the government’s Support Line 179.
*Name and details have been changed to protect identities.