Northern Ireland backs tougher laws for crimes against the elderly
The vast majority of people across Northern Ireland support tougher legal penalties for criminals who abuse older people, new research shows.
Almost 94% of those surveyed said they would like to see abuse against the elderly made an aggravated offence - similar to hate crimes.
It is estimated that there are 464,500 victims of elder abuse each year in the UK, with 11,500 of these in Northern Ireland.
Such a law change would see crimes against older people treated as seriously as offences where the victim is targeted for personal characteristics such as their race, religion, sexual orientation or disability.
This means more cases of elder abuse would reach the courts, while mandatory sentencing guidelines would result in tougher punishments.
Currently, older victims of crime, often targeted due to their perceived vulnerability, receive no special statutory protections in UK criminal law.
Action on Elder Abuse Northern Ireland director, Veronica Gray, said: "These findings show the overwhelming level of support there is for tougher laws to protect our older people from what are appalling crimes.
"Right now, only a tiny fraction of offences are reaching courts and, even when they do, offenders are too often escaping with paltry fines or soft suspended sentences.
"This is creating a climate that says to people: if you abuse an older person, you're more than likely to get away with it. It has to stop."