Older Battered Woman
Rosalie S. Wolf
Institute on Aging, University of Massachusetts, Memorial Health Care
Concern for the older battered woman emerged in the 1990s because of the failure of the existing systems of care to address their needs. The battered women's movement focused on younger persons with young children while adult protective services in most states were limited to dependent adults. For battered women in their 50s and older who were relatively functionally independent, help was not readily available or accessible.
Historically, because of adult protective services' emphasis on self-neglect
and the elder abuse movement's preoccupation with caregiver stress, spouse
abuse as a significant form of elder mistreatment was not fully acknowledged
until the publication of a community survey that showed spouse abuse to
be more prevalent than abuse by adult children. Similarly, except in isolated
instances, battered women shelters did not reach out to older women, offered
no educational programs dealing with abuse and aging, and provided no
services for them.
Overwhelmed by the response to a request for stories from older battered women, the Women's Initiative, AARP in 1992 organized a forum that brought together workers in the domestic violence, elder abuse, and adult protective services movements and older victims to exchange information and to recommend how to better meet the needs of older women. The AARP efforts led to grants awarded by the Administration on Aging to six organizations to demonstrate a coordinated approach among the battered women shelters, adult protective services, and the aging network. The resulting projects of safe housing, advocacy, and criminal justice system action have become models for other communities throughout the country.
Today's older women, who have been in abusive situations for many years, face a number of difficulties that are not necessarily experienced by younger women.
Consequently, leaving an abusive situation presents a number of barriers:
Other problems associated with the operation of battered women's shelters also discourage older women:
If an older women considers herself to be a victim of elder abuse, she has a number of options:
The domestic violence, adult protective services and aging programs are now working together and with other community groups to provide services to this group. One example are the support groups for older victims. They usually meet on a weekly basis, at a place convenient to transportation, have 3-10 persons in attendance, and use a paid leader. The purpose of the groups are to provide:
A few communities across the country have also established emergency shelters for older victims. These shelters serve as a safe haven while permanent housing arrangements are sought. They vary in size, sponsorship, and program. Average size is 7 beds with an average stay of 33 days. Most programs admit persons who can care for themselves. An array of services is available for clients including medical and psychiatric care but through arrangements with community agencies. The opportunity for sharing experiences and forming healthy relationships which is the hallmark of the battered women's shelters is generally lacking because of the limited numbers (some are one bed/apartment shelters), length of stay, and philosophy. One shelter with a 90 day stay period does sponsor a support group for residents; another will link the victim to a support group in the community.
In the past few years, domestic violence groups, adult protective service agencies, and aging programs have participated in cross-training so that each group is becoming knowledgeable about each other's approach to the issues and working together to meet the needs of this older group.
Additional information may be obtained from:
National Center on Elder Abuse
National Clearinghouse Against Abuse in Later Life
National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse