Women's Aid report - older women and domestic violence 15.06.07
It’s often assumed that domestic violence is mainly experienced by younger women, but often domestic violence against older women is subsumed under the broader heading of “elder abuse”, and so there is no firm data about the extent of domestic violence in this age group.
As a clear example of this problem, a report (1) released by the Department of Health and Comic Relief estimates that 227,000 older people were neglected or abused in their own homes in the past year – and domestic violence was clearly a significant part of this.
The summary of a report by Women's Aid below presents findings and makes suggestions for service improvement.
View the full report: Older women and domestic violence (pdf)
Statistics relating to older women and domestic violence (pdf)
Summary of issues
Inadequacy of data
We do not know the extent to which older women are -
a) currently experiencing domestic violence
b) experiencing the consequences of past domestic violence (including permanent physical damage, disability, loss of confidence, confusion, depression and other mental health issues)
Service provision may be inappropriate
(see below: Issues for service providers)
Professionals’ responses: health and social care professionals may fail to respond, or respond inappropriately, e.g. –
a) Fail to recognise abuse when experienced by older women
b) Subsume under “elder abuse”
c) Fail to hold the abuser responsible – particularly if he (or she) is elderly/disabled, and/or the carer of the abused woman.
Older women may be particularly reluctant to disclose abuse, e.g. due to –
a) increased stigma or sense of shame
b) different understandings of “abuse”
c) belief that nothing can be done, and/or there is no appropriate service or help available
d) fear of not being believed
e) fear of consequences of any intervention
f) (potential) responses of other family members, including adult children.
Issues for service providers (domestic violence services)
Try to provide a variety of services appropriate to the needs of older women; e.g. community outreach, drop-in services, support and counselling services (including for women who remain with their abusers, and those for whom the abuse is not current).
Involve older women in your organisation, and ensure they are visible.
Include images of older women in publicity material and information.
Consider developing a refuge or other safe housing specifically for older women; or adapt existing accommodation to make it more accessible for older and/or disabled women – e.g. self-contained units.
Develop links with other agencies – e.g. those providing support and care to older people.
Issues for service providers (health and social care services)
Ensure that multi-agency policies and procedures for the safeguarding and protection of vulnerable adults specifically recognise domestic violence and the particular needs of older and vulnerable people who are experiencing it.
Provide training to confront ageism, increase awareness of domestic violence against older women, and how to respond.
Develop protocols and guidelines which enable safe disclosure (for example, routinely seeing older and vulnerable women separately from their carers).
Ensure that information on local and national domestic violence services is displayed in places used by and accessible to older women; e.g. day centres, hospitals, health centres, community and religious centres, libraries.
Develop links with domestic violence agencies, perhaps through active involvement in local domestic violence forums and Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships.
Issues for health and social care professionals
Believe women who disclose abuse: don’t make assumptions about older women, and don’t assume that any allegations must be the result of confusion or dementia.
Enable safe disclosure – e.g. by seeing clients alone (without partner/adult child/carer), at least some of the time.
Know how to respond to those who disclose abuse, and have information and contact numbers readily available.
Always hold the perpetrator responsible for the abuse.
Be aware of the issue of domestic violence and how it may affect older women clients
(1) O’Keeffe, Madeleine et al. (2007) UK Study of abuse and neglect of older people: Prevalence Survey report