“It was just constant degrading. ‘You are stupid.’ He controlled all the finances and he controlled my whole life.” (Walk in Our Shoes: Working with Older Survivors of Abuse)
Patsy was raped and abused by her husband for years. As she aged, the abuse intensified. For a long time, she told no one. Patsy is one of the courageous survivors who shared her story for Walk in Our Shoes: Working with Older Survivors of Abuse. Walk in Our Shoes is an OVW-funded collection of videos to help service providers learn strategies for working with older victims and for designing and implementing specialized services that meet the unique needs of older victims.
Patsy is among the estimated 11% of older adults who experience elder abuse every year. Elder abuse is the physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, abandonment, neglect, or financial exploitation of an older individual. Victims may be abused by spouses, partners, adult children and grandchildren, caregivers, other people in positions of power and authority, and strangers. Although anyone can be a victim—regardless of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental capacity, and physical ability—the vast majority of victims are women.
Victims face a number of barriers to reporting abuse and seeking help. Like other victims of domestic violence, elder abuse victims may feel a profound sense of guilt, shame, or self-blame. Others may feel love or a sense of protectiveness for their abuser, who may be a long-time partner or adult child, or fear intensified violence or retaliation if they try to leave an abusive situation. As Patsy recalls of her own experience, “I would hear other people…talking about people who were abused and [saying,] ‘Why didn’t they just leave? Well they’re so stupid for staying.’ Unless you walk in our shoes and know what we are going through and this fear that is so horrendous that just comes over us. It’s like a mist, it’s a very fine mist, and it just keeps coming more and more…”
Still other victims may be trapped physically or economically due to vision, hearing, mobility, or psychological impairments, or financial dependence. As one survivor recalls, “To get out of that relationship and to get on with my life[,] it took a lot of effort on my part. Here I had no money to speak of. I was leaving the house, going out into the world, with $89 in my pocket, for the month. I had nothing really…. It was really scary.” Indeed, over 75% of elder abuse victims are dependent on others for at least some care or assistance.
Fewer than 5% of elder abuse cases ever come to light. Even victims who do report violence often receive inadequate support due to lack of understanding and coordination among service providers.
As victims suffer and the elderly population continues to grow, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is working to dismantle the barriers that prevent elder abuse victims from obtaining support through its Enhanced Training and Services to End Violence Against and Abuse of Women Later in Life grant program. This grant program provides training to criminal justice professionals and victim service providers on recognizing and responding to elder abuse, as well as direct services to victims.
OVW also funds an array of training resources through the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) and the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA). NCALL has developed an informative series of Abuse in Later Life information sheets.
One of our grant recipients recently reflected, “The [OVW] funds have allowed us to mobilize multidisciplinary groups of professionals and activate them to fully engage in education. . . . Before this project no one in my district was talking about elder abuse. . . . Now, everyone is!”
Check out these federally funded resources:
- Resource Sharing Project’s ReShape Newsletter on Addressing Sexual Assault in Later Life
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s Webinar on Prosecuting Cases of Sexual Violence in Later Life
- Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence & NCALL’s Elder Abuse and Faith Toolkit
Learn more or take action in your community for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day:
- WEAAD Online Resources from NCALL
- National and local WEAAD events listed by NCEA
- Action Kit from the Ageless Alliance
- Collection of WEAAD ideas and resources from the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women
It’s long past time that we all start talking about elder abuse, acknowledging the reality of such violence in our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities—and resolving to end it. In Patsy’s words, “I feel free except I’m [still] constantly watching over my shoulders and things like that. But it has helped me so much to gain my confidence and just to laugh again and know that I’m a good person, I’m okay, and I’m going to be alright.”