domestic violence elderly

When Abuse Tarnishes The Golden Years

Abuse doesn’t discriminate against age — and an unsettling number of older Americans are in abusive relationships that either begin in or persist into later life.

No one deserves abuse, and no matter what your situation, there are ways to find help. It is never too late to report the violence and talk to someone about it.

Why Now?

Abuse can begin later in life or start earlier and continue into later years. There are many causes for late onset domestic violence, including stresses resulting from retirement, disability, shifting roles for family members and sexual changes. Older men and women are also more likely to experience domestic violence at this age if they enter a new relationship later in life.

What Does This Look Like?

In addition to the known symptoms of domestic abuse, frequent and more severe injuries, confusion and disassociation are characteristics of late onset domestic violence. Social workers, police and medical professionals find these elderly-specific indicators to be difficult to diagnose because they often occur in one form or another without the presence of domestic abuse.

Why Is It Underreported?

There are lots of reasons people don’t report abuse in their later years of life. Retirement and disability often render elderly individuals financially unstable and they may fear losing health care benefits or falling into poverty or homelessness. If they do rely on their partner for caretaking and support they may have fewer options after leaving.

Because of generational norms, some older women feel that speaking out about domestic violence would be “airing dirty laundry,” and prefer to keep their personal lives private. In addition, many individuals are anxious about leaving a partner late in life with the concern that they may spend the rest of their days alone.

How Can You Help Someone You Know?

Many domestic violence campaigns and services don’t address late onset domestic violence and instead focus mainly on people between 18 and 45 years old. This limits the availability of assistance older people. Fortunately, specific resources do exist. Adult Protective Services (APS) in all states serve abused older victims.

Do you know someone who may be experiencing abuse at the hand of their partner? Since there are unique reasons many older Americans don’t report abuse, speaking up if you notice red flags could be the support someone needs to begin to get help.

It’s never too late to reclaim your life, and we want to help. Call NDVH at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to chat with an advocate about the abuse — whether it’s happening to you personally, or to someone you know.

Further Resources

power and control wheel

Taking a Spin Around the Power and Control Wheel

We recently debunked the myth that abuse can be described as a cycle. If we can’t describe it that way, is there a more accurate way to talk about abuse?

Yes! It’s called The Duluth Model, and at its core is the Power & Control Wheel.

Relationship violence is a combination of a number of different tactics of abuse that are used to maintain power and control — which are the words in the very center of the wheel. The center is surrounded by different sets of behaviors that an abusive partner uses in order to maintain this power and control.

These sets of behaviors are:

  • Coercion and threats
  • Intimidation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Isolation
  • Minimizing, denying and blaming
  • Using children
  • Economic abuse
  • Male privilege

A lot of these behaviors can feel subtle and normal — often unrecognizable until you look at the wheel in this way. Many of these can be happening at any one time, all as a way to enforce power within the relationship.

Think of the wheel as a diagram of the tactics your abusive partner uses to keep you in the relationship. While the inside of the wheel is comprised of subtle, continual behaviors, the outer ring represents physical, visible violence. These are the abusive acts that are more overt and forceful, and often the intense acts that reinforce the regular use of other subtler methods of abuse.

How and why do we use the power and control wheel?

Our advocates use the wheel to help teach callers about the dynamics of an abusive relationship. It shows a victim that they are not alone in what they are experiencing, and that these tactics of maintaining power and control are common to abusers.

We also use the wheel to help other callers like friends, family members or even someone who may identify as abusive to better understand the complicated components of abuse and the many forms it can take. This can be really helpful in explaining the difficulties and dangers of leaving an abusive relationship.

To learn more about the Power and Control Wheel, visit the Home of the Duluth Model online.

abuse isn't a cycle

Is Abuse Really a ‘Cycle’?

We use many different words when we’re describing abuse: systematic, power, control, pattern, purposeful. One word we don’t use when talking about abusive relationships is cycle.

This way of describing abuse began in the 1970s and today, the “cycle of abuse” is still talked about in courtrooms, therapist sessions, in the media and more. Here at The Hotline we don’t use that descriptor, for a variety of reasons. Here’s why:

To describe abuse as a cycle makes it seem like there are four predictable, repetitive steps of what is going on in any relationship at any given time:

1)    Tension-building

2)    Incident — often a physical altercation

3)    Reconciliation

4)    Calm

If abuse was a cycle, it would be predictable — you could know what to expect and when to expect it. But the reality about domestic violence is that it doesn’t happen that way. While there may be recognizable patterns going on in a relationship (ex. you know your partner tends to get more confrontational after going out drinking) the violence rarely occurs in a predictable cycle.

An important reason why we don’t use the term “cycle” is because it’s sometimes used to blame victims for the continuation of abuse.

In her essay “Reframing Domestic Violence Law and Policy,” Professor Leigh Goodmark writes,

“Describing abuse as a cycle becomes problematic when this language is co-opted to be used against victims, particularly in a court setting — ex. “Why didn’t you leave during the calm stage?”

No one ever asks to experience abuse. The fault lies with the abuser, not the victim, so it’s important that we don’t use language that blames the person suffering abuse.

The model that more accurately describes what occurs in an abusive relationship is The Duluth Model and its Power & Control Wheel. It explains the many tactics an abusive partner uses at any one time to establish and maintain power and control over their partner.

To learn more about why we don’t refer to abuse as a cycle, check out the video below of Ellen Pence, co-founder of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, speaking about the creation of a new model of understanding abuse.

Pence also helped to create the Power & Control wheel, which was developed through listening to the stories of people who had experienced different types of abuse.

On Monday we’re taking a spin around the Power & Control Wheel, which will shed some light on a more accurate way of describing what’s happening within abusive relationships.

Head back to the blog next week to learn more!

solutions from advocates

Clever Tips That May Keep You Safe

Situations that are difficult or frightening force us to think on our feet or think outside of the box to stay safe. It is during those tough, defining moments that the brain works in different and clever ways.

Often our calls at The Hotline include safety planning. Safety planning is what it sounds like: developing strategies and ideas to keep you safe, no matter where you are in your relationship.

These plans differ for everyone. What works for one person might not be the best option for someone else.

Thankfully, our advocates are smart and intuitive and so are you. They’ll brainstorm with you to consider tactics that could work best, exploring options for both your immediate and long-term safety.

Sometimes our advocates have to get extra creative to keep someone safe. Here are some ingenious safety planning strategies that advocates have suggested to callers in the past:

  • Do you need a place to stay overnight and other options aren’t lining up? Some emergency rooms may let you stay the night.
  • If you have a car and are out of options for places to stay, most Walmart parking lots let you park your car overnight.
  • If your partner is very controlling about money/checks/receipts, think about ways you can save very small amounts of money. Purchase small items like bottles of shampoo and then return them. Some purchases made with a debit card allow you to get cash back from your returns.
  • Trying to hide away some money? Consider sneaking money into a tampon box or some place your partner wouldn’t think to look.
  • If your partner is calling multiple times, let it go to voicemail. Threatening voicemails can become evidence if you decide to file for a protective order.
  • If you’re relocating somewhere and you need money for a bus ticket, ask different family members for a specific amount (ex. Can I borrow $10 for a bus ticket?) Sometimes it’s easier for people to grapple with an amount as opposed to just hearing “I need money.”
  • Occasionally Megabus and other bus services offer inexpensive ticket deals. Megabus offers some long-distance travel deals for as low as $1
  • If you lack money, internet and other resources and need to buy a ticket to leave, see if someone can go online, buy you a ticket and give you the confirmation number.
  • If you get a raise at work, ask your boss to have the amount of the raise directly deposited into a separate account at the bank that the abusive partner doesn’t know about.

These safety planning techniques may not work for everyone — and you are the expert on your situation. If you want to develop creative solutions to help stay safe in an abusive relationship, call us at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) to speak with an advocate.

Do you have any unique safety planning tips?