Crime and Abuse Against Seniors:
A Review of the Research Literature With Special Reference to the Canadian Situation


Some of the literature on crime and the elderly introduces the concept of "targeted crimes" against seniors. This concept is problematic as it raises the question of the motive of perpetrators and whether the age of the victim is taken into account in their selection of a crime target. One of the growing theoretical perspectives in criminology, supported by considerable empirical research, is the Rational Choice Perspective (Cornish and Clarke, 1986). Proponents of this perspective believe that there is some rationality in all criminal behaviour and that the age and physical vulnerability of an individual are elements of the calculus offenders may use in selecting their targets. Thus, according to this perspective, all crime, including all crimes against seniors, involves some targeting of the victim. To rational choice theorists, victim selection is not random, although it may be hasty. In a specific case, only the offender knows whether the age and frailty of the victim were part of the decision to select that victim.

Consequently, the present authors prefer to refer to "crimes and forms of abuse posing the greatest risk to seniors" or "crimes and forms of abuse to which seniors are most vulnerable." The present literature review revealed that seniors are most at risk in relation to a combination of crimes and settings. The review revealed three broad areas of concern:

  1. Financial Crimes by Strangers—These offences include a wide array of primarily fraudulent acts against seniors by persons usually unknown to them.
  2. Abuse by Relatives and Caregivers—This category comprises a variety of crimes and forms of abuse, ranging from homicide and assault to neglect and emotional abuse, often occurring in private residences at the hands of relatives and caregivers. The key element here is abuse in the context of a relationship of trust.
  3. Crime and Abuse in Institutional Settings—In these settings as well, there are many forms of victimization of the elderly, ranging from violence to neglect.

Much of the literature cited in this section is drawn from American sources as more research has been conducted in the United States in the three above-mentioned areas.