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Supporting Domestic Violence Survivors of All Ages and Recognizing Abuse in Later Life

As we near the end of October and the 30th annual commemoration of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we at OVW are mindful of all that has been accomplished, and we are keenly aware that much remains to be done.

The past 30 years have brought many changes. Each year we have seen an expansion in awareness of the impact of domestic violence on the lives of survivors, their family and friends, and those who work to make a difference in the response to this crime. We have also seen enormous growth in technology and the tactics perpetrators have discovered to use technology to abuse and control their victims. At the same time, we have seen the power of technology harnessed to improve victim safety and survivor outcomes. 

Another major change in the past 30 years has been the growth in the aging of our population. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that in 30 years, the population of people over aged 65 will  approximately double.  There are many ways we can ramp up and prepare for our aging communities, including how we serve older victims and respond to offenders.  We must guard against assumptions we make about older individuals so we can better identify cases of abuse; we cannot assume an injury or a change in disposition is just part of aging.

Domestic violence in later life – like domestic violence in general – involves a pattern of behavior that is used to gain or maintain power and control over another person. It may take the form of physical or emotional abuse and, especially among older victims, may include economic abuse in the form of financial exploitation, including theft and fraud. Abuse in later life may be perpetrated by a current or former spouse or intimate partner, as well as by family members, including adult children or grandchildren. We do not know exactly how many older adults in the U.S. experience abuse each year in part because there is no uniform reporting system for elder abuse and because states define “elder” differently. But in one major study of 7,000 elders, 11 percent reported experiencing at least one form of mistreatment (physical, emotional, sexual, or negligence) in the past year. This study also found that the majority of abusers are spouses or intimate partners.

Since 2006, funding made possible by the Violence Against Women Act has allowed the Office on Violence Against Women’s “Enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life Program” (or Abuse in Later Life Program) to award grants that make it possible for thousands of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, victim service providers, and other professionals to learn to recognize and address violence, abuse, and neglect of older adults. So far 94 communities have received funding through the Abuse in Later Life Program.

We hope to fund many more communities; the Program’s current solicitation for grant applications is open until November 8, 2017. Download the solicitation from our Open Solicitations webpage (and sign up to get an email when new solicitations are released).

We encourage you to integrate older survivors into your work and get involved in elder abuse awareness events in your community. Every individual matters, and everyone can make a difference. Here are some ideas:

  • Include images of older adults in brochures, posters and presentations.
  • Include examples of abuse in later life in educational events.
  • Conduct outreach where older adults gather.
  • Highlight older victims during domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking awareness months.
  • Similarly, highlight the strength and resilience of older survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault during Elder Abuse Awareness Day, held on June 15 each year.
  • Work collaboratively with experts in aging network services and elder abuse.

The Office on Violence Against Women is committed to raising awareness about and taking action to reduce all forms of domestic violence – regardless of one’s age, disability, race, religion, culture or status. We also thank you for all you do every day to make a difference for survivors of domestic violence.

Find additional information and resources on abuse in later life at:

If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, abuse, neglect, or exploitation, visit U.S. Department of Justice Elder Justice Initiative,   NCEA’s State Resources webpage, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). 

Updated January 20, 2021