Reaching Out to Older Women Experiencing Domestic Abuse

13 June 2022

“It’s My Life Now” – Reaching Out to Older Women Experiencing Domestic Abuse

As we embrace World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15th June, we are reaching out to older women experiencing domestic abuse that support is available and it is never too late to seek help and support. We often hear that older women are “hidden” or “invisible” victims of domestic abuse, however we want to break down these barriers and myths which can prevent older women seeking help.

The long-term effects of domestic abuse on older women are likely to be similar to those on younger women, however the effects may be more severe the longer the abuse has occurred. This can include health & mobility problems, loss of confidence, disability and mental health problems, to name just a few. We know that the lockdowns over the past two years have increased the risk of older women experiencing domestic abuse and were often used by perpetrators as yet another way to scare and control older women and to limit their engagement with the outside world. This not only makes them more vulnerable to domestic abuse from those they are dependent on, but also poses a barrier to them seeking help. We know that older women may find it harder to recognise, talk about or leave an abusive relationship.

Barriers for Older Women

There are many barriers to older women seeking support and reporting domestic abuse, including:

  • Associating domestic abuse with younger women or women with children
  • Acceptance and normalisation – seeing it a part of their duties of marriage may be normal for women of their generation
  • Leaving their home and family possessions can be difficult for older women due to their family, pets and lifestyle
  • Being financially dependent on their abuser
  • Being dependent on their abuser to provide physical or practical support and care
  • They worry they may not be believed
  • Feeling shame and/or embarrassment
  • Being isolated from family and friends – as they age, their social networks may decline or become harder to access
  • Being frightened about what happens next – making changes can be daunting for older women as they may face the loss of their home, routines, family and relationships

Did you know?

  • A woman couldn’t open a bank account without a male relative’s permission until 1975
  • Marital rape was not considered a crime until 1991

Domestic abuse includes physical, financial, emotional and sexual abuse, and patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour that happens not only between partners and former partners, but can also be perpetrated by family members including adult children.

Lisa’s Story

Lisa* is 81 years old and has been married for over 50 years. She had been advised by her GP to contact Women’s Aid after a domestic abuse incident a few years ago. Lisa had been subjected to emotional abuse over the years – she tried to manage it herself behind closed doors living in hope her husband would change and making excuses along the way. As Lisa’s children grew older and left the family home, she was on her own living with the abuse. This is when she reached out to us for support.

Lisa was not ready to make any long-term changes; she had previously tried leaving but always went back with the promise that he would change and get help with his anger and outbursts. With the support of her Women’s Aid Outreach Worker, she was able to build a relationship of trust and disclose her abuse at her pace in safe place.  Together they explored her choices and options with safety planning playing a key theme throughout her support needs. Lisa was keen to enhance her knowledge on barriers to seeking help, warning signs in an abusive relationship and the validation that the abuse was not her fault.

Lisa met up with her Outreach Worker for one-to-one emotional support and was able to start to rebuild her self-esteem and has found her voice by reaching out for support.

Lisa said about her experience at Women’s Aid: “They offered me a support worker who helped me so much by just listening and been understanding and knows exactly what I mean when I try to explain my feelings, I don’t think I will ever lose contact with Women’s Aid.”

At Belfast & Women’s Aid we are experienced in dealing with domestic abuse in older women. We are pro-active in reaching out to older women so that they feel comfortable in coming forward and accessing support. We provide a tailored support outreach service by providing emotional and practical support. We also have safe accommodation by offering refuge support in three locations across Belfast and Lisburn. We actively listen to older women to empower them to know they are not alone, and that we will go at their pace and respect their choices in moving forward.

*Name changed to protect anonymity.

Domestic abuse does not go away with age and the long-term impact certainly does not lessen. We know that one in six older people are victims of some form of abuse, and on average older people experience domestic abuse for twice as long before seeking help as those aged under sixty.

If you are an older woman experiencing domestic abuse, you can contact us for a confidential chat and support on 028 9066 6049.

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