October is Awareness about Violence Against Women (VAW). The toll of “fight or flight” and staying in survival mode is not a lifestyle choice but one victims endure usually at the hands of a trusted Partner. It is a difficult situation and often causes permanent physical and psychological scars. Today, I want to shed light on a less obvious group of victimized women: Senior Women. One in ten seniors fall victim to elder abuse; 65% of reported abuse happens to Senior Women. From reported cases, 90% of abuse stems from a trusted relationship partner or spouse.
What is Elder Abuse?
For Elder law issues, Elder Abuse is defined as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person” (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/elder-abuse). Elder abuse and neglect occur in nursing care facilities and from caretakers. Financial elder abuse may occur from exploiting strangers, children, and caretakers.
Elder abuse is a prevalent problem not only in nursing homes, or from strangers, but more often comes from trusted people, children and even spouses or partners. Abuse from spouses and partners is a separate form of violence against senior women.
Intimate Partner Violence
Whereas in the overall definition of elder abuse, any relationship such as a parent-child, institution, or caretaker perpetuates the abuse, IPV differs. In domestic violence, the abuser is an Intimate Partner. Partner Violence (IPV) is “violence that includes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression (including coercive tactics) by a current or former intimate partner such as a spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, dating partner, or ongoing sexual partner.” An Intimate Partner is a person who shares a close emotional and ongoing physical or even sexual connection with a victim but does not necessarily cohabitate with the person. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/intimatepartnerviolence.pdf.
IPV: Senior Women
Five areas of IPV exist: 1) Verbal abuse (yelling, name calling), 2) Physical abuse, 3) Sexual abuse, 4) Psychological or emotional abuse) and 5) Financial abuse (controlling the money and financial dependence). Reported cases may fall under Elder Abuse but really is an outgrowth of long term IPV during an entire relationship with an intimate partner.
As partners age, the abuse may take on different forms. For example, in a younger couple, a predominant form may be physical abuse; whereas in senior years, the abuse becomes more psychological/emotional and financial. Partners use intimidation, coercion, and gaslighting against senior women to keep them under control. The abuse intensifies and the abuser often reinforces a sense of isolation.
Senior Women: A Vulnerable Population
What makes Senior Women more vulnerable to violence? The woman's senior age makes them especially vulnerable. Often life changes, such as menopause or retirement, trigger increased domestic violence and abuse against senior women. Some women experience the abuse through many years, while others experience abuse after turning age 55.
IPV against senior women tends to go under reported. Senior Women may endure long-time IPV which intensifies after children leave the home. The Senior woman lives is more isolation and dependence. In addition, women as a societal group make less than men and rely on a domestic partner for financial support. As the woman ages, she finds herself in a financially dependent state enduring IPV.
Generational views also exacerbate IPV and keep the woman living in a secret home life with IPV. Increased social isolation from friends who are aging, and children who moved out reduces the ability to seek help against the abuser. Chronic IPV increases long-term health-related risks among Senior women, including feelings of depression and anxiety. The health issues keep the senior woman in a vicious cycle of IPV.
If you suspect that a senior woman is being abused as an elder or is in an IPV relationship, report it to the state hotline. Reach out to the Senior woman to help her find resources. (for help visit: https://www.mocadsv.org/how-to-get-help/ ). Financial dependency does not need to be a barrier to getting help. Sheri Tucker works in areas of Elder law issues. She also works with family lawyers like Hooma Shah (https://www.theshahlawfirm.org/) to help women find solutions. Visit https://TuckerLegal-LLC.com to book your consultation today for estate planning and elder law issues.