In many ways, the impact of living with domestic abuse is the same for all victims – regardless of age. Everyone worries about not being believed, or having to live with the stigma of abuse. They worry about what will happen to them financially, if the abuse will get worse or what might happen to the perpetrator if they do speak out.
But for older victims, this fear can be exacerbated by a number of other factors. Being aware of these barriers allows people to better understand domestic abuse for older women and encourages them to reach out for support.
Not recognising what’s happening as abuse
It goes without saying that there is no ‘typical’ victim of abuse. But it’s normally younger women or families who are portrayed in leaflets, posters and campaigns so some older women are unsure whether they are really victims of abuse.
“I’m not sure whether I knew I was experiencing abuse. It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish… it’s a very large word. There is financial, mental, verbal, economic and so much more. Some is invisible to the eye. It’s not always physical.”
A reluctance to talk about it
Generational attitudes towards relationships mean some older women might accept the abuse as “the way it’s always been”. Older women may feel it is not socially acceptable to talk about problems in their relationships as they may have grown up thinking women’s roles were confined to the home and divorce or separation were taboo.
Having health or mobility needs
Older women are statistically more likely than younger women to have health problems, reduced mobility or other disabilities which means their situation makes them more vulnerable to harm. This could mean they are less able to communicate about the abuse. It could also mean they’re more isolated – both physically and socially.
Another common barrier among those victims with health or mobility needs is that the perpetrator of the abuse is also their carer. They may also make threats to put the victim into a care home if they tell anyone about the abuse.
Family and friends aren’t supportive
Some adult children will be supportive of their parent and encourage them to leave or seek help. But others can create barriers by expecting women to stay, continuing to assume the carer role to an elderly father. The responsibility they place on themselves to be the carer of the abusive partner or child can also be too much.
It feels too late
We know that older victims are much more likely to live with abuse for prolonged periods of time. The thought of having to give up the home they’ve lived in for many years, leaving behind pets and treasured possessions, can be too much. After a lifetime of contributing to the family business, homes or other assets, many fear they will be left with nothing. And, too often, life can get in the way and victims can feel the time isn’t right to seek help.
But….there is help out there
If you are experiencing abuse, or are worried about a friend or relative, and would like advice or support contact Solace’s confidential advice line 0800 802 5565
Monsura Mahmud is a Domestic Abuse Prevention Adviser for Solace’s Silver Project, a specialist service for women aged 55 and over affected by domestic and sexual abuse. The project provides one-to-one support, as well as training professionals who come into contact with older victims.