I #SeeDV as an Issue That Impacts Survivors of All Ages and Abilities: Kathy Greenlee

DVAM-greenleeThe last day of October means the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I see domestic violence as an issue that requires a community response accessible by all survivors; this includes people of all ages, and people with disabilities. However, it is often difficult for survivors with disabilities and older adults to access the support services they need to escape abuse. Although we have made progress, the work to expand access to services for these survivors and bring visibility to their experiences is only just beginning.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s commitment to providing comprehensive support for people who are deaf or hard of hearing is an example of what is needed to address violence in the lives of all people. For more than 22,000 survivors each month, the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides that first link to help. According to the Hotline, in 2013, 24% of callers identified themselves as over the age of 46—and almost 10% were over the age of 55. Nearly 2,000 callers accessed help through the TTY (Deaf Hotline) service.

Regardless of age or ability, all survivors of domestic violence deserve pathways to safety. Every day, advocates at the Hotline provide callers with safety planning and crisis intervention. But what happens after a survivor hangs up the phone is just as critical. For the Hotline to have its full impact, its advocates must be able to connect survivors with direct service providers in their communities that can accommodate their needs. For older adults and people with disabilities, this is not always the case.

Last year, the Hotline reported that more than 1,600 callers had difficulty accessing local services because programs could not accommodate their disabilities. That these survivors were turned away after making the effort to find assistance is particularly troubling, given that people with disabilities can have increased barriers to seeking help, such as reliance on a caregiver (who may be the abuser), social isolation, and communication obstacles. Similarly, older adults in violent relationships can find it challenging to leave an abuser or access shelter. Some older people may have medical conditions and disabilities that make living on their own (or in shelter) difficult; and others may be the caregiver to an abusive partner, making the thought of leaving seem impossible.

To improve access to services for older survivors and people with disabilities, there are some basic things domestic violence agencies can do. For example, the very act of getting to shelter cannot be taken for granted. Transportation is doubly challenging for older people and people with disabilities who rely on a caregiver and are reluctant to disclose their need to go to a domestic violence shelter. Survivors should not be expected to find safety without help if they need it. With additional training, domestic violence providers can consider some of these barriers and encourage advocates to reach survivors where they are.

I began my career as a domestic violence and sexual assault advocate in Kansas in the late 1980s. Since then, our country’s response to violence against women has tremendously improved, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a model for accommodating survivors with diverse needs—from language access, to the Deaf Hotline. Domestic Violence Awareness Month is over, but I will continue to raise awareness and build support for a network of victim services that reaches all people, regardless of age or disability. I hope you will join me.

Additional resources:

greenlee-125Kathy Greenlee is the Assistant Secretary for Aging and Administrator of the Administration for Community Living (ACL) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). ACL brings together into a single entity the Administration on Aging, the Office on Disability, and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities. Ms. Greenlee was appointed by President Obama as Assistant Secretary for Aging and confirmed by the Senate in June 2009. Prior to her service at HHS, she served as Secretary of Aging in Kansas, and before that as the Kansas State Long Term Care Ombudsman. A champion for the wellbeing, dignity, and independence of all persons, regardless of age and disability, Assistant Secretary Greenlee began her career as a domestic violence and sexual assault advocate in Kansas. Concurrently serving as a member of the state attorney general’s Victims’ Rights Task Force, she served as the Executive Director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. Ms. Greenlee is a graduate of the University of Kansas with degrees in business administration and law.

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

reaching out for help

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 1-10

“It would take me yet another year of planning, forgiving, calling, reaching for help, before I could leave.” —Sarah Buel

Leaving is not easy. On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good. Exiting the relationship is most unsafe time for a victim. As the abuser senses that they’re losing power, they will often act in dangerous ways to regain control over their victim.

We know victim’s frustrations with feeling like the abuse is somehow their fault. If only they’d leave, right? Wrong. We know better. In fact, we’re taking a closer look at 50 reasons why it may be near impossible to leave. To answer the often-asked question “Why don’t you just leave?” we’ve adapted Sarah M. Buel’sFifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay” — 50 different reasons that she has encountered throughout her 22 years of work in the domestic violence field.

Follow along on the blog this week as we discuss 10 different obstacles each day.

1. Advocate: The victim doesn’t have an enthusiastic supporter on their side so may feel discouraged or hopeless.

2. Batterer: The batterer is wealthy, famous, powerful in the community, etc., and can afford to hire private counselor and pressure decision-makers.

3. Believes Threats: The victim believes the batterer’s threats to kill them and the children if they attempt to leave.

4. Children’s Best Interest: The victim believes it is in the children’s best interest to have both parents in the home, especially if the abuser doesn’t physically abuse the children.

5. Children’s Pressure: The children put pressure (independently or by the abuser’s influence) on the abused parent to stay with their partner.

6. Culture and Race: Because of differences in race or culture, the victim worries about being treated unequally by the justice system if they come forward, or believes stereotypes about acceptable actions in their own culture.

7. Denial: The victim is in denial about the danger, instead believing that if they could be better partners, the abuse would stop.

8. Disabled: Victims who are disabled or physically challenged face obstacles in gaining access to court and social services, and may be isolated from basic info about resources.

9. Elderly: Elderly victims may hold traditional beliefs about marriage and believe they must stay, or are dependent on the batterer for care even in the face of physical abuse.

10. Excuses: The victim believes the abuser’s excuses to justify the violence, blaming job stress or substance abuse for example.