Each woman’s journey to escape domestic abuse is unique, and only some include formal services in their help-seeking. The key focus for any responses should be to respect women’s rights and needs – and listen to their experiences.
But it can be useful to generalise – to some extent – to recognise shared experiences and similarities and differences. Especially if it is clear that particular groups of women are less likely to use particular types of services – or less likely to seek formal help (or more likely to be turned away if they do).
Older women can often seem to be missing from the experiences of service providers. Older women do access services – the oldest in the data used in this research was 102. But older women do seek formal service help in lower numbers.
They also are more likely to have additional needs and barriers:
- More likely to have physical health problems
- More likely to have mental health problems
- More likely to be disabled
And some of these issues may be due to experiencing years of abuse.
There is more detail in a briefing paper from this research.
Some older women will have been experiencing abuse for a very long time before seeking help – like Elizabeth in this research, who planned to leave when her son was independent – and she did when her son left home for university:
“I just thought – I can’t take it any longer. You know – I’ve stood it for twenty-three years for my son.”
Many older women will not have legally-dependent children, but that is not to say that their children’s needs and concerns don’t continue to affect them, and give ongoing opportunities for the abuser to continue to control the situation. As Elizabeth said:
“I couldn’t go to my son’s graduation – which upset me in a way; but then, that was my choice, because I didn’t want to see him [husband]. I couldn’t bear to see him. I’ve seen some of the pictures – that are on the internet – of my husband; and I just had to turn away when I saw him, because it sends the shivers up my spine.”
Though older women may relocate to a refuge, like Elizabeth did; they are significantly more likely to stay put when they seek help, and less likely to go to a different local authority. But when they do go elsewhere, there is no significant difference from younger women in the average distance travelled.
Older women should not be assumed to be more dependent and needy – in fact, they are more likely to self-refer to services than younger women. But they are also more likely to have longer engagement with services – being significantly more likely to stay in a service for 9 months or more. There are only a few services which specifically respond to the needs of older women – like The Silver Project – and there is a toolkit to help professionals improve their responses so older women have a real chance of freedom.
“I knew I was making the right move. I was worried about my son obviously; and I was worried about the future. But I thought – it can’t be as bad as what I’m leaving” “ I feel so much better in myself now – than I have done in years; it’s been a great weight off my shoulders.”