Domestic Violence Against the Elderly

Elderly AbuseThe extent of abuse suffered by older people in the UK is detailed as far back as a 2007 report released by Comic Relief and the Department of Health titled “The UK Study of Abuse and Neglect”. This report showed that 342,000 older people face abuse in their own homes within the UK with over 100,000 being physically assaulted and over 42,000 suffering sexual abuse.

The perpetrators of this domestic violence ranged from family members and close friends to care workers however the majority of the incidents involved a partner (51%) or another family member (49%).

In many cases these elderly people are being left in bed or unwashed or left without food or access to the toilet.

Commenting on the report, the Chief Executive of Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) said; “The abuse of older people is a blight on our society and there is a duty on all of us to face up to the challenges posed by this Report. The four Governments of the UK must now begin to give the same level of priority to the abuse of adults as we see with children. At the end of the day, we hurt just as much at 78 years as we do at 8 years of age.”

Woman’s Aid also produced a report in 2007 titled “Older women and domestic violence”. This report found that it is often assumed that domestic violence is mainly experienced by younger women and confirmed that there is no firm data about the extent of domestic violence against older women.

The report showed that older women experience even more barriers to disclosure than younger women, and may therefore be more reluctant to report violence. There are also additional factors as to why it may be more difficult for an older women to disclose abuse, such as they feel that marriage is for life and they are ashamed, they are frightened that no one (including their adult children) will believe them or that they believe that it is too late at their age for them to seek help as services only exist for younger women. In some instances, the abuse suffered by the elderly was instigated from their own adult children and included psychological and emotional attacks, physical violence and financial abuse e.g. as their pension was kept from them and personal banking accounts withdrawn without their knowledge.

elder violence3Another hurdle with domestic violence with this age group is the understanding of exactly what is classed as domestic violence / domestic abuse.

Domestic violence was not regarded as a crime when these victims were younger, and neither police action nor protection from the civil courts was readily available.

The Chief Executive of Women’s Aid commenting on this report said; “Health and social care professionals can impact on this situation by failing to respond to domestic violence experienced by older women or by responding inappropriately. This can include a failure to recognise either that the abuse is happening or to hold the abuser responsible – particularly if they are elderly or disabled. Health professionals should also not assume that any allegations of domestic violence by older women must be the result of confusion or dementia.”

For help, advice or further information regarding Domestic Violence Against the Elderly, contact Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) or Women’s Aid. For a “Personal Safety for the Elderly” course, contact The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety via our contacts page.