Back in March 2020, trapped with their perpetrators when society practically shut down overnight, those suffering domestic abuse had fewer avenues of escape until the government made it clear that escaping injury or harm was a valid reason to leave home.
That this legislation was created didn’t make it any easier for sufferers of domestic abuse to seek help. If you’ve ever experienced domestic abuse, you’ll know that leaving is not as simple as simply packing a bag and going. Many women and men, when escaping such a scenario, have to make decisions that don’t just affect them. Leaving could affect their children’s lives and stability, their children’s education and each child’s relationship with the perpetrator. Sufferers may not have anywhere else to go that would constitute a roof over their head; leaving their home may also impact their job and how they earn their income. It’s a lot to consider.
When we think of a relationship that involves domestic violence, we perhaps imagine a relatively young woman being abused by a man. However, domestic abuse can involve a woman abusing her male partner, and same-sex relationships are not immune, either.
Gender is only one aspect, age is another. For instance, it’s not always parents with young children who can become victims of domestic violence.
A report by Age UK has highlighted the number of older people in domestic abuse situations. Currently, only those aged 75 and under are included in statistical data under the Domestic Abuse Bill. Whilst we don’t automatically imagine older people being victims of such abuse, the Crime Survey for England and Wales reports that, during 2018/19, approximately 180,000 women aged between 60 and 74 were deemed to be so.
According to the same survey, if the death of an older person is caused by another human being, 46% of the time this is likely to be at the hands of the victim’s partner or spouse. In 44% of cases, the people responsible for subsequent death is the victim’s adult children or grandchildren.
Domestic abuse can include financial abuse and the undermining of a person’s self-esteem. Statistics show that older people take twice as long to seek help if they become a victim. Mobility issues, illnesses such as dementia/Alzheimer’s, and a person’s living arrangements, may see them dependent on their perpetrator(s). They may also feel a huge amount of shame that they suffer such abuse at the hands of a family member, which could also prolong the situation.
It’s less likely that a sufferer of domestic abuse over 75 years of age would have workmates or friends that they could confide in about how they’re being treated. In their report, therefore, Age UK urges third parties to be vigilant, e.g. GPs and other medical personnel, staff at the bank where the victim has an account, and those who carry out personal services, such as hairdressers or chiropodists.
Because the Domestic Abuse Bill fails to acknowledge that people over 75 can be sufferers, specialist services are faced with a challenge in identifying elderly victims and survivors. According to the Age UK report, “Services are not effectively targeted at older victims, and do not always meet their needs.” Gathering data is crucial. “Older people are not a homogenous group of people … (if) data on equalities characteristics (age, gender, disability, ethnicity) is collected … this will inform how we support older people experiencing domestic abuse.”
The coronavirus pandemic has only made things more difficult for sufferers of domestic abuse, whatever their age. The virus, seemingly, is not going anywhere, and neither is the move to protect older people from domestic abuse without a change to the Bill.
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