Reaching Underserved Older Women Victims
SeniorLAW Center and CARIE are joining forces to focus attention on older victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, some of the most vulnerable victims of violence against women. With over 60 years of combined experience serving older victims in legal and nonlegal settings, SeniorLAW Center and CARIE will create strong strategic partnerships, build awareness and knowledge, and provide holistic services to older women facing violence in their homes, communities and in long-term care settings.
Domestic violence and sexual violence know no age limits. Domestic elder abuse is mainly family abuse, a significant portion of which involves spousal violence and violence by adult children and grandchildren. According to facts sheets of both the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV), abuse in later life is often long-term abuse: elder abuse is often called “domestic violence grown old.”
While the forms of abuse experienced by older victims are similar to those of younger victims, older victims can be more isolated and dependent upon their abusers due to physical infirmity. The prevalence of dementia among older victims and perpetrators is another complicating factor in elder abuse. Older victims who are dependent upon their abusers may fear that if they seek help they will be placed in a nursing home and lose their independence, and in fact, nursing home placement does sometimes result from involvement of adult protective services. Traditional shelters for women who are abused are not designed for older victims, and their services do not meet their needs for care. (During 2008, of the 634 persons sheltered by WAA in Philadelphia, only 1 was over the age of 60).
A key challenge in quantifying the problem of domestic violence against older women is the lack of comprehensive and uniform data. Although as many as five million elders are abused each year in the United States, it is estimated that 84% of elder abuse cases are never reported. (“Elder Abuse and Domestic Violence in Later Life,” ABA Commission on Domestic Violence, 2007). In two-thirds of reports to Adult Protective Services (APS), the victim is an older or disabled woman (“Elder Abuse, A Woman’s Issue,” Older Women’s League, 2009). Older victims are less likely than younger women to call a domestic violence program, and there is no mandatory reporting of elder abuse in Pennsylvania except in care settings.
Sexual abuse is the least reported form of elder abuse. Only 1% of reports made to APS are for sexual abuse although the incidence is thought to be much higher. One study found that 18% of women who are raped each year are age 60 or over. Another study found that although 29% of elder sexual abuse involved marital rape, the largest category of sex offenders was adult sons abusing their mothers. Many rapes and other sexual abuses of older women occur in long term care facilities. A Virginia study found that nearly 71% of older victims were assaulted in nursing homes, nearly 15% in the home of a perpetrator, and just over 12% in their own homes. (Barriers to and Promising Practice for Collaboration Between Adult Protective Services and Domestic Violence Programs, NCEA, 2007).
A contributing factor to scarce data is that older female victims are served – to the extent that they are served at all – by both adult protective services and by domestic violence and sexual assault services providers, and coordination between these programs is sometimes lacking. Not surprisingly, data for Pennsylvania and Philadelphia is fragmented. PCADV subcontractors reported serving 1,655 victims age 60 and over in 2006; also during 2006, 11,574 reports of need for protective services were received by Older Adult Protective Services (OAPS) in PA – 2,330 in Philadelphia. During 2008, according to PA-UCRs data, there were 292 female victims of aggravated assault statewide – 130 in Philadelphia, and 36 female victims of forcible rape age 60 and over in PA, with 11 in Philadelphia. The 2007 OAPS annual report includes data about mandatory abuse reporting from health care facilities under Act 13. During 2006 and 2007, there were a total of 224 reports of sexual abuse – including 152 from nursing homes and 56 from personal care homes. Among the 224 victims, 130 were over age 60.
Regardless of under-reporting and lack of comprehensive data, the numbers of older victims of domestic violence and sexual assault served by mainstream victim services organizations are less than those of younger victims. Domestic violence and sexual assault service providers do not commonly experience working with older victims, and with funding cuts and waiting lists for services, it is difficult for these programs to focus significant attention on older victims, some of the most vulnerable victims of violence against women.
SeniorLAW Center and CARIE are joining forces to focus attention on older victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, some of the most vulnerable victims of violence against women. SeniorLAW Center and CARIE will combine their decades of victim services experience to:
- Create an Older Victims of Violence Team of leaders in the domestic violence, victim services, law enforcement, legal, aging and human service sectors to work collaboratively to promote cooperation, identify victims, assess unmet need and develop best practices, strong partnerships
- Provide protection, advocacy and enhanced direct, holistic services for older women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, including services in court and community settings, and counseling, advocacy and information and referral services through two state-wide telephone resources: the Pennsylvania SeniorLAW HelpLine 1-877 PA SR LAW and the CARIE LINE 1-800-356-3606
- Train law enforcement, prosecutors, healthcare and allied professionals, and the general public about domestic violence/sexual assault and older women to educate seniors, professionals and families about rights and increase access to services
This project will also provide experienced and focused services for underserved populations, including language, racial and cultural minorities, older women, those with Limited English Proficiency, and predominantly low-income women and those living on low fixed incomes.
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