By Laureen (Reenie) Kaye
“The Golden Years” are normally the times when one has the ability to enjoy carefree living, retirement and reflect back upon accomplishments in life, hopefully with immense satisfaction. When domestic violence rears its ugly head, The Golden Years are not so “golden.”
Not as common as the occurrence of domestic violence rates for those between the ages of 16 – 45, the elderly population, one that actually has flourished given longer life-spans a by-product of the “Baby Bloomer” period, elderly abuse happens more often than one can imagine and is the most under-reported form of domestic violence.
Just as potent and lethal in other age groups, elderly abuse encompasses the same patterns of domestic violence rooted in the now infamous “power and control” wheel ultimately inflicting physical, sexual, emotional, or financial injury or harm upon an older adult, now more likely attributed to intimate relationships or familial abuse. The aggressors include spouses and ex spouses, partners, adult children, extended family, and in some cases caregivers. The problem occurs in all communities, and affects people of all ethnic, cultural, racial, economic, and religious backgrounds. And while the majority of victims tend to be female, men in this age range are three times more likely to be abused that their younger peers. Most victims are female, men can be harmed, too.
Generally, abusers use a pattern of coercive tactics, such as isolation, threats, intimidation, manipulation, and violence, to gain and maintain power over their victims. They often tell their victims where they can go, whom they can see, and even how to spend their own money, in other words: “control all of their decisions.” Many perpetrators of elderly abuse exploit their victims financially while others feel entitled to hold an authority position merely because they are younger and/or physically stronger than their elderly victim.
The domestic violence and aging networks are encouraged not to try to draw fine lines between traditional domestic violence service systems. Specifically in the classficatoni of domestic violence versus elder abuse; rather, efforts should be made to maximize the capacity of both systems by partnering to meet the unique needs of older victims.
Domestic Violence Prevention Programming
While service availability varies from one community to another, most domestic
violence programs offer some or all of the following services:
- 24-hour help/crisis line: In communities and states across the country, specially
trained counselors are available by phone to help victims.
- Peer and individual counseling: Peer and individual counseling services are available
for victims of domestic violence to assist the decision-making process.
- Support groups: Support groups provide individuals an opportunity to express their
feelings and experiences with domestic abuse, and to support others in similar
situations. A few domestic violence programs in the country have formed groups
specifically for older women. To find support groups in your area, consult the
National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life Resource Directory
- Legal advocacy: Legal advocacy services assist victims in understanding and
navigating the legal system. Many domestic violence centers nationally have their own staff lawyers to assist victims while others have trained advocates to support women at criminal and civil hearings and to help in pro se proceedings, such as getting a court
order of protection.3 (“Pro se” means you act as your own lawyer.) The availability
of legal advocacy varies greatly depending on the size of the program.
- Emergency housing: Emergency housing for victims leaving domestic abuse
situations includes battered women’s shelters, safe homes, or other temporary
emergency shelter where a victim can stay while she decides what to do next.
- Information and referral: Domestic violence service providers routinely provide
information to victims about their rights, available sources of support, and
additional resources and services that can help — for example, economic support,
housing, health care, mental health, and aging network services.
- Safety planning: An emergency safety plan can help a person who is being abused
or threatened to protect herself in the event of further violence. Domestic violence
safety plans generally consider such issues as which rooms are safest in case of an
assault, how to reach out for help if the abuser shows up, and what a victim
should pack if she needs to leave in an emergency. Additional information
concerning safety planning is available from NCALL at www.ncall.us.
Keep in Mind…while the majority of domestic violence programs are designed for younger women, many agencies throughout the United States offer specialized services for older women and men. Additional program may also include children’s programs and batterer intervention programming. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-7233) Web site www.ndvh.org/ provides a search tool for finding local contact information.
Word to the wise! There is the old adage in criminal trials that describes a person who represents himself at trial: “He has a fool for a client.” And while not intended to impugn the intelligence of any person, the same really does hold true with respect to domestic violence given the discrete and disparate systems one must navigate to achieve justice. That being said, the most effective way to approach relief from abuse is by Advocacy. Domestic violence advocacy is largely based on a self-empowerment philosophy. Victims are given support, information, resources, help in navigating the complexities of the legal system, and options so they are able to make choices that will work best for them. Advocates, much like lawyers, do not tell victims what they need to do, and normally do not judge or question a victim’s decision, but rather offer professional advice and support.
Building Awareness: Common Indicators of Domestic Violence in Later Life
Specialists in aging networks often encounter workplace harassment and age discrimination as additional forms of abuse where older workers are often targets. Most often victims will not readily disclose their situation to friends, family or professionals out of embaressment or fear. Abusers use violence to get their way, or to control or punish their victims; and unfortunately, the majority of victims will do what abusers want to avoid being hurt. Professionals in the aging network need to be aware of possible behavioral indicators of abuse and common reactions of victims. Below we will identifiy some warning signs of domestic abuse in later life. Nota Bene: All of the signs need not be present for abuse to be occurring, and just one or two indicators may warrant a referral for adult protective and/or domestic violence services.
Victim and Abuser Behaviors
- Victims may have injuries that don’t match the explanation, appear to be isolated, say or hint they are afraid, talk about or consider suicide.
- The abuser may minimize or deny victim’s injuries or complaints. They may blame the victim for being clumsy or difficult. They may act kind and loving in the presence of others, but less compassionate when out of ear shot.
Potential Victim Reactions
Victims may be concerned for their own safety and for the safety of others. Some victims want to stay in their own home and seek professional help only to stop the abuse, refusing legal intervention. For their own protection, or because they are not ready for changes, victims may:
- Defend and/or excuse the actions of the abuser.
- Remain silent.
- Ask the social service worker to leave and/or refuse services.
- Try to avoid police intervention and the arrest of the abuser.
- Minimize abuse and deny abuse occurs.
- Believe they are responsible for the abuse (e.g., “If I had gotten dinner done
on time,” or “If I hadn’t gotten my haircut today, he wouldn’t be mad at me
- Look to abuser to answer questions.
- Ask for help and then change his/her mind.
- Recant or withdraw the domestic violence report.
- Cancel or miss appointments.
- Not follow through on the safety plan.
- Talk fondly of the abuser’s good qualities.
- Make statements such as “He won’t like that.” Or “I don’t think she’ll let me
Understanding the Victim
Ending a relationship with an abuser, especially a loved one, is often a difficult process. There are many reasons:
- Most victims prefer to maintain some type of relationship, particularly during the “golden years” with their spouse/partner, family member or caregiver — they simply want the abuse to end.
- Some victims will choose to stay with an abuser, often for religious, cultural, or financial reasons. These victims can benefit from support, information, safety planning, and strategies that can help break down their feelings of isolation.
- Personal values and beliefs formed by an individual’s background and experience can also play a role. Some victims may be more willing than others are to report abuse or talk to professionals about family problems.
- Race, culture, or ethnicity may influence body language, eye contact, and the expression of emotion.
- Generational values may also be involved. Many older persons may be uncomfortable talking about personal, private matters with strangers. They may fear younger professionals imposing their own generational values about divorce or women’s roles onto them and judging their decisions.
Finally, keep in mind that elderly victims of abuse may have, more likely than not, may have attempted to seek out help without much success. There could be any number of reasons: Maybe a shelter was unavailable or not appropriate for the victim’s needs. Perhaps their abuser was not arrested or a restraining order was not enforced. It could be that the laws did not apply to the situation.
Here’s How to Help (T.R.U.S.T.)
T – Take time to listen.
R – Respect the victim’s values and choices.
U – Understand how difficult it is. Offer compassion and hope.
S -Support the victim’s decisions.
T -Tell the victim help is available. Refer victim for support and assistance.