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Know the facts about Abuse in Later Life

The impact of abuse on victims of any age is profound.

Research in the last 1980s and 1990s debunked the myth that most elder abuse was caused by caregiver stress. Instead the research showed that abuse was occurring within a spousal relationship with a long history of domestic violence. (Wisconsin Lawyer, Vol 73, No. 9, September 2000)

As the general population grows older, estimates of domestic violence among the elderly are expected to increase dramatically – putting additional pressure on service providers. (US DOJ, September 2001; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) (both papers discussed the various forms of abuse – physical, sexual, financial, emotional, neglect and abandonment – pointing to the increased vulnerability to these abuses among the elderly)

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that 4 out of 5 cases of elder abuse go unreported. According to American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, elderly survivors of sexual abuse named the husband as the offender in 29% of the cases. 58% of elder abuse perpetrators were spouses, while only 24% are adult children, despite the fact that reported cased more often name the children as perpetrators. (Pillemer and Finkelhor, 1988).

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Read our latest newsletter: February 2017.

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For Abuse in Later Life

There is no age limit when it comes to sexual and domestic violence. You may experience abuse in later life whether you are healthy, ailing, or have a disability. You may be abused by a partner, spouse or companion, or an adult child. Sometimes the offender is also your primary caregiver, which can make you feel more dependent and isolated from others. In addition to tactics common to all offenders, those who abuse people in later life have been known to use other tactics including:

  • denial of food or medication
  • financial exploitation including identity theft
  • hiding or vandalizing hearing aids, walkers, wheelchairs, or eyeglasses
  • denial of assistance with bathing or cleaning
  • denial of access to communication or visits with loved ones.

The abuse may have been going on for years, or the violence may have begun recently in a long-term relationship. You may find yourself with a new abusive partner after being separated, divorced, or widowed. Lifestyle changes of your own and/or the abuser including retirement, normal aging, limited mobility, and illness can aggravate sexual and domestic violence later in life.

Regardless of your age, you may experience many of the common concerns and barriers to seeking help, maintaining your dignity and safety. On the other hand, given your age, you may have very real and well-founded unique concerns and fears of disclosing the abuse, finding appropriate services, and making choices.

You may feel:

The impact of abuse on victims of any age is profound and under-reported.

  • Afraid
  • Alone
  • Angry
  • Confused
  • Ashamed
  • In pain (physically or emotionally)
  • Without options
  • Dependent on the abuser
  • Love for the abuser

For elders (those in later life), you may have additional and unique concerns about your safety and options:

  • ageist assumptions and ignorance about older people’s relationships and sexuality
  • physical frailty or disabilities (including limited hearing, eyesite, mobility)
  • fear of being institutionalized or displaced from your home
  • fear loss of independence
  • dependence on the offender for elements of your daily life
  • fear of losing benefits and health insurance
  • limited economic options and resources
  • reconciliation with your religious and cultural beliefs regarding marriage and family loyalty
  • responsibility for giving care to the offender
  • belief that battering is an acceptable part of a relationship
  • stigma attached to asking for help and being unaware of available resources

For Help and More Information

Want to talk to someone about your own safety or about someone you care about? Regardless of your age, remember that local sexual and domestic violence programs are there to provide help and support. A trained advocate is available to discuss your needs, help you identify support services, shelters, and other resources, and refer you to services for sexual and domestic violence.

Most professionals in Massachusetts (doctors, nurses, social workers, and others) are required to report suspected abuse or neglect of anyone over age 60 to the Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA). You can also refer yourself for services. Through their protective services program, you can find advocacy, help with finances, help making a safety plan, help with care-giving, housing and other supportive services.

To report suspected abuse of people 60 and over in Massachusetts, contact:
MA Elder Abuse Hotline
24 hour (voice and TTY)
(800) 922-2275

There are several programs in Massachusetts and around the country that specialize in information about and providing services for older victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. In Massachusetts, some sexual and domestic violence programs offer support groups specifically for people in later life. Ask your local program whether there is such a group near you.

Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse
Boston, MA
Safe Havens is a Boston-based nonprofit that provides services nationally and locally. Working as a bridge between service providers and faith leaders, Safe Havens provides education, resources, advocacy, and technical assistance on domestic and sexual violence and elder abuse to improve access to services, foster leadership development, and encourage collaboration. Safe Havens has developed specific resources for service providers who want to partner with their area faith communities on addressing abuse in later life.

National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life
307 S. Paterson St., Suite 1
Madison, WI 53703-3517
Phone: (608) 255-0539
Fax: (608) 255-3560
email: ncall@wcadv.org

SAGE-Boston (Stop Abuse Gain Empowerment)
Boston, MA
Email: sagecoordinator@gmail.com

National Center on Elder Abuse
Administration on Aging, US Department of Health and Human Services
1201 15th Street, N.W., Suite 350
Washington, DC 20005-2842
Tel (202) 898-2586 • Fax: (202) 898-2583
E-mail: ncea@nasua.org

AgingInPlace | National Council for Aging Care
1530 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22209
Tel (877) 664-6140
Guide to Recognizing Elder Abuse: http://www.aginginplace.org/guide-to-recognizing-elder-abuse/


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