Older people and domestic abuse

As per the Safe Later Lives: Older people and domestic abuse report by Safe Lives , victims aged 61+ are much more likely to experience abuse from an adult family member or current intimate partner than those 60 and under. On average, older victims experience abuse for twice as long before seeking help as those aged under 61 and nearly half have a disability. Older victims are less likely to attempt to leave their perpetrator in the year before accessing help and more likely to be living with the perpetrator after getting support. The report also claims that older people are statistically more likely to suffer from health problems, reduced mobility or other disabilities, which can exacerbate their vulnerability to harm. Another common barrier is generational attitudes about abuse that leads to older victims being far less likely to identify their situation as abuse.

Defining domestic abuse

As per Age UK’s advice and information, every adult should be able to live safely, free from abuse and neglect. Most adults are able to do this, but research indicates that almost half a million people aged over 65 will experience some form of abuse or neglect.

Domestic abuse is named as a type of abuse under the Care Act. The act also specifies that freedom from abuse and neglect is a key aspect of a person’s wellbeing.

The UK definition of domestic abuse is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour violence or abuse’.

In the table below are more specific examples within different categories of abusive behaviours. The lists are not exhaustive but designed to give a sense of how the issue may present and what the various impacts on the survivor might be.

  • Physical

Hitting, kicking, biting, burning, scratching, pushing, hair pulling, drowning, strangling, imprisoning, subjecting to reckless driving, refusing to help when sick or injured, rough handling during care, neglect. Bruises and other unexplained injuries, sudden weight loss, repeated unplanned trips to hospital and/or use of emergency services.

  • Sexual

Rape, sexual assault, forcing someone to partake in sexual acts, pressuring/ coercing, groping, sexual harassment, forcing use of pornography, sexual exploitation, forced sex work. Developing STIs, difficulties walking or sitting, vaginal or anal bleeding, pelvic injuries, torn or stained clothing, irritation or pain of the genitals.

  • Financial

Withholding money, controlling spending, taking over bills, abuse of Power of Attorney, fraud, exploitation, pressure re: wills, property or inheritance or misappropriation of property/benefits. Lack of clear knowledge or information about how much money is available, not having or not knowing whereabouts of cash or bank card, debts, regularly running out of food or having utilities cut off.

  • Emotional or psychological

Coercive control, verbally abusing, putting someone down, blaming, humiliating, isolating, withholding affection, gaslighting, denying access of phone/mail, using silence.

Coercive control in older people

Coercive control is key to the understanding of domestic abuse. It has been a separate offence since 2015, defined as ‘an act or pattern of acts of assaults, threats, humiliation or abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.’

When an abuser engages in controlling behaviour they are performing ‘a range of acts designed to make a person feel subordinate or dependent.’

This can be done by:

  • Isolating them from sources of support
  • Exploiting them for personal gain
  • Depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape
  • Regulating their everyday behaviour

Why are older people at high risk of coercive control?

As people grow older their personal circumstances often mean that they become more dependent on a single person or their immediate family to meet changing care and support needs. This can result in a situation in which an abuser becomes the main influence in their life. An abuser may be in a stronger position to restrict relationships that would give a survivor valuable interaction (supportive family members, friends, the wider community).

Somerset and Older people domestic abuse

In Somerset the number of people over sixty-five reporting abuse is on the increase. There has been a 16% year on year increase in older people death due to domestic abuse from 2018-19 to 2020-21 that is a cause for concern highlighted in the recent Domestic Abuse Homicide Reviews carried out recently.

Older people are particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse, often unaware that help is available. Fear and long-term health conditions can be major barriers to seeking and getting help, and sometimes spotting and challenging abuse in the elderly can be difficult and domestic abuse can be masked with professionals only seeing presenting issues as instead being an age-related condition, e.g. bruising linked to medication or an ailment, when instead it’s physical abuse, or depression and confusion, instead actually being a sign of psychological or emotional abuse or coercive control

Myths and misconceptions around older people Domestic abuse

‘Domestic and sexual abuse happens less among older people’

‘Older, frail people with care needs can’t be perpetrators’

‘When someone has dementia, you can’t trust what they say about abuse’

‘Bruises happen all the time because of age-related conditions, there’s no need to ask more questions’

Recognising that something isn’t right in the relationship with a relative or partner, and it maybe domestic abuse is an important step. The best way to get specialist support and advice. Domestic abuse is never acceptable. You don’t have to put up with it, and there is help available for you to live free from abuse and fear.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, or worried about someone you know, or are concerned about the impact of your behaviour towards others, then help is available: www.somersetsurvivors.org.uk for information on local and national services, or by telephoning the free confidential Somerset Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0800 69 49 999.

In an emergency you should always dial 999. If you are worried that an abuser may overhear your call you can remain silent, tap the phone and dial 55 when prompted by the operator who will send help. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired you can register with emergencySMS.net. Once registered you will be able to send a text to 999 if you require help in an emergency.