Raising awareness of elder abuse

It’s a challenging time for older and vulnerable people living with domestic abuse.

The concerning rise in abuse because of lockdown has been widely reported in the media, but much of these reports have focused on the impact on women and children.

Ahead of World Elder Awareness Day on Monday, 15 June, the Isle of Wight Council is raising awareness to older adult victims of abuse who are also at significant risk during the pandemic.

Teresa Brimble-Brennan, the council’s domestic abuse project officer, said safety measures put in place to protect elderly from the virus may be placing them at a greater risk.

And she explained older people were often more reluctant to report abuse for a variety of reasons.

“Elder abuse is a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, causing harm or distress to an older person,” she said.

“It can take many forms such as financial, psychological, sexual, physical and domestic abuse with many victims suffering multiple forms.

“While domestic abuse in elderly bears some resemblance to the experience of younger victims, notable differences include being more likely to experience abuse from an adult family member or current intimate partner, having a disability and remaining in the home after getting support.

“Isolation, communication and the complex care needs of both the victim and perpetrator are some of the factors that prevent this being reported.

“This type of abuse may have gone on for years and there may be additional pressure to stay for fear of upsetting family dynamics and victims being less likely to identify their situation as abuse.”

Between April 2019 and March 2020, YouFirst, the Island’s domestic violence and abuse support provider, received 129 referrals for victims aged 65 and above — the oldest referral was for an 89 year old.

Meanwhile, WightDASH, a women’s domestic abuse support group on the Island, said in both 2018 and 2019, 23 per cent of programme attendees were over 50, with six per cent over 70.

Councillor Gary Peace, Cabinet member for community safety and public protection, said: “The Isle of Wight Council is doing everything it can to support our residents, particularly the most vulnerable, during this difficult time.

“As a former police officer, who worked on a specialist domestic violence unit for four years investigating hate crimes, I am acutely aware that domestic abuse can devastate lives and with people cooped up due to coronavirus this is a particular threat at the moment.

“We are working closely with our partners in the police, NHS, voluntary sector and community groups to address the dangers that those affected by domestic abuse are facing.”

Case study

One victim has shared her own experience highlighting how domestic abuse can have a lasting impact on people.

“My first husband was very violent and I lived in absolute fear of him. I now know that he was very controlling too but I didn’t see it then, it just seemed to be part of being a wife.

“There was no help back then — certainly none that I knew about. I couldn’t tell my parents because I thought it was all my fault and I was ashamed.

“After around ten years he decided he had had enough of me and our two children and left, moving on to another woman. It was really hard, I struggled to keep things going and I felt hopeless.

“I was lucky though and met a lovely man and we got married. He treated my children as his own and we were happy for many years.

“He died a few years ago; he was a bit older than me and had health problems. Two years ago I heard that my first husband had died — I had hardly given him a thought for years — but it completely threw me off.

“All of a sudden all the memories came back. I became afraid again and started to feel panicky about things. I can’t remember who it was, but someone suggested I contact a support provider to complete the Domestic Abuse Recovery Toolkit with Wight DASH.

“I found it really helpful. I didn’t know all those memories were still there but the course helped me understand that and make sense of things.”