Domestic abuse, or domestic violence, is any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of their gender or sexuality*.
Domestic abuse and the abuse of older people are coinciding concepts. An incident of domestic violence may constitute the abuse of an older person and visa-versa. Therefore the signs of abuse can be seen in acts of financial, psychological, sexual and physical abuse as well as neglect. While older people are at risk of all forms of domestic abuse, a number of academic studies have identified a declining trend in physical and sexual forms of abuse in conjunction with the ageing of perpetrators and victims, but an increase in psychological and non-violent abusive behaviours. (Stockl et al; 2012, Zink et al; 2005)
*This may depend on legislative area, for example the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act (2018) defines domestic abuse as only occurring between intimate partners or ex-partners.
Domestic abuse affects people - predominantly women - of all ages. However, older victims’ experiences often differ to those of younger victim-survivors thanks to a variety of social, cultural and physical factors that require attention.
- For victims-survivors over 60, family members rather than intimate partners are to be found as the perpetrators of domestic abuse. (Clarke et al. 2016.)
- Older women victims-survivors may feel expected to protect the family unit by staying with the abuser, and may fear losing relationships with adult children, family, and friends. (Lazenbatt et al, 2010)
- As many older women grew up in generations where adherence to traditional gender values was to be expected (Band-Winterstein. 2012) Abuse may become normalised and accepted, ensuring an ingrained cognitive barrier to any action to prevent continued abuse. (Zink et al. 2003)
- Older woman victim-survivors may experience a decline in physical and cognitive health and become dependent on their abuser for support. (McGarry et al. 2011), However in contrast, an older women victim-survivor may also provide a caring role for their abuser impacting their reluctance to leave an abusive relationship. (Teaster et al. 2006)
- Ageist media and political campaigns against domestic abuse that predominantly focus on young women and children and erase the voices of older victim-survivors may also contribute to a barrier for older-victim survivors reporting abuse and seeking help. (Carthy and Taylor. 2018)