December 6th is our National Day of Remembrance and Action for Violence Against Women. We’ve written something about this day before and if you wish more information on how this came about, please check out our other blog post here – December 6th
For this year, we want to talk about something that doesn’t necessarily get tons of attention but is important and that is domestic violence and older women. There are many reasons why being older in age can make you more vulnerable than others who are younger. There are times when mentally and physically you don’t have the same resources or capacity to cope with your situation and this can result in significant consequences. There are also times when you don’t have the resources available to assist appropriately. It’s really important for service providers to have a good understanding of why this is so that assistance can be tailored to the needs of older victims.
The following is a list of key factors to keep in mind that may influence an older person’s response to abuse and willingness or ability to reach out for help. Now obviously, some of these factors apply to people who may not fit the older adult description but these are factors that are likely more common for older adults than for younger folks.
- some older adults believe strongly in death do us part and that men are the head of the household. This is a prevalent societal message that was strongly reinforced for generations. While we are making great progress in terms of equality and opportunity, many older women struggle with letting go of a lifetime of teaching and training. This can make it difficult to reach out for help, to stay out of an abusive relationship and to accept help from others on top of all the other barriers that already exist for abused women in general.
- some older adults may not know what their rights are nor be aware of what services exist or resources that are available. Rights and resources have changed quite a bit over the past few generations and how we educate others about services has also changed. In many ways, a lot of what we do is share on social media, through websites or through other electronic means, all of which may be beyond the ability of some older adults. This lack of ability to and knowledge is often related to ongoing isolation and control from an abusive partner on top of having to adjust to changes in society.
- some older adults may feel like it is their duty or obligation to take care of their partner physically and emotionally as that is part of the cultural expectation of the older generation of women. The “made your bed, now you lie in it” theme was extremely common for many people who fall into the older adult category. When you have been told your whole life that is your role to be the caregiver no matter what and that it was your choice to be with this abusive person it can cause a tremendous amount of guilt to try to let that go.
- some older adults are greatly influenced by their children to stay, especially if the abusive partner will demand someone care for him and the children fear that the responsibility will fall to them. Adult children may minimize the abuse, question why the need to leave now after so many years or simply not want the family dynamic to change out of fear about roles, responsibilities and how this may impact their lives. If an older woman feels like she owes her children somehow for the abuse they’ve suffered over the years and they oppose her leaving, it will be extremely difficult for that older woman to defy her children to leave. If leaving jeopardizes potential relationships with grandchildren then chances are the older adult is not going to leave, especially after years of putting her own needs behind others she cares about.
- many older adults need support and older women who have been in abusive situations for years are particularly vulnerable. They may need physical support or support for mental health challenges that are not available to them. They may require financial support, may have had limited access to education, no opportunities for employment and never been allowed to have a bank account or manage money on any level. This creates even more challenging options for leaving if there is no clear ability to support themselves combined with a lack of opportunity and time to create a life that can contribute towards supporting themselves at this point.
- many older adult women have suffered years of abuse. The trauma and damage from so many years can create their own barriers in terms of leaving or accessing support. As with most abuse survivors, they may feel worthless and that they are not capable of being on their own; they may find it difficult to stand up for themselves as they have never in their life had the opportunity to do that; they may find it extremely difficult to talk about what is happening and explain why they’ve stayed for as long as they have since that will be a prevalent question suggested by many others if they do speak up.
- services that are physically accessible for older adults in abusive relationships may be limited or in some areas completely lacking. Older adult women may not have their licence limiting their ability access services; they may need assistance walking or moving or may find a crowded shelter with noise and children too difficult to adjust to after years of isolation and trauma.
- As a society, we don’t do a good job of respecting our older adults and they are often viewed or portrayed as incompetent, frail, unattractive or difficult. This becomes another barrier not only for the victim but also for the service provider who may be influenced through years of exposure to these messages. We need to change the way we look at and respond to our older adults that is more centered around respect and as equals versus people to be managed or taken care of.
For more information, please visit; Abuse of Older Women