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Domestic Violence and Older Adults

Domestic Violence in Older Couple Relationships

When society talks about domestic violence (DV) the discussion normally focuses on couples that are young, dating or recently married. But, DV can happen in any relationship. DV is an pattern of violence or intimidation by an intimate partner, which is used to gain power and control. It is estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will be victimized by a partner at some point in their lives.
Sometimes DV starts early in the relationship and just continues in various ways throughout the entire lifespan. For elderly victims there were few options to leave a violent relationship as DV only became recognized as a crime in Illinois in 1986. Prior to the passing of the Illinois Domestic Violence Act (IDVA) there was little that could be done to get the assistance that is needed to find safety from ongoing abuse.

Rarely though violence can begin in a relationship as they age where there were no indications of abuse earlier. Though no relationship is “perfect” some normal lifespan stressors may exacerbate personal issues. Retirement, increased time together, medical issues and other changing roles can make it necessary to learn new skills to weather the changes that naturally occur.
Widows and widowers may encounter an abusive partner if and when they begin a new relationship. If abuse was not present in their previous relationship they may be taken aback and not know what to do or where to find help. They may be embarrassed or fear being alone again if the relationship ends.

DV is a crime that is mostly committed by men, but women can be violent, also. All DV is wrong. Sometimes there is substance abuse, money stressors, or depression present in the abuser but none of these are excuses that justify hurting someone else. The longer the abuse goes on it may be more difficult for the victim to leave and the abuser often interprets that as their actions must be right. It is not about the abuser not being able to control themselves or their anger; they use their anger to control their victim and get their way.

What should you look for when you think DV may be present in a relationship?

You may have a friend or family member that you think may be in an unhealthy relationship or you may be wondering if you, yourself, are being abused. Do you recognize any of these characteristics?
• Intense jealousy
• Needing to keep the partner abreast of their whereabouts constantly
• Name calling
• Physical assaults like: grabbing, pushing, slapping, holding you down, threatening with a weapon
• Forcing sexual activity, including: intercourse, coercing you to watch pornography, inappropriate requests for unwanted activities
• Making financial decisions that put the families future at risk; refusing access to medical care or assistive equipment
• Isolating you from friends and family.
• The relationship seems “too good to be true”
• Past abuse. The best indicator of future DV is past DV. It may escalate over time or there may be long periods of time where the abuse seems to have ended. There may be a “cycle of violence” with periods of tension, explosions, apologies and even times that seem perfect.
Help is available and it is free!

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and it is an important time to learn the facts. To find your local resource contact AgeSmart Community Resources (800-326-3221) and they can share the closest agency. Together we can create peaceful lives, households and communities!

Information gathered from the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

Author tag–Debby Mize, BS ICDVP
Director Peacework Consulting

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