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Equal and Different: Respecting older women

Equal and Different: Respecting older women

On Wednesday 6 April, DVRCV and CASA house hosted a forum aimed at responding to older women’s experiences of family violence, sexual assault and elder abuse. 'Equal and Different: Respecting older women' was a day of workshops and addresses by key academics and practitioners in the domestic violence and aged care sectors. The keynote speaker for 'Equal and Different' was Dr Dale Bagshaw of the University of South Australia, co-author of Preventing the abuse of older people by their family members and a key figure in the fields of domestic violence, child abuse and abuse of older people. We spoke with Dr Bagshaw briefly after the forum.

Why is it important to look specifically at abuse against older women? What kinds of abuse are they at more risk of than other victims of family/domestic violence and/or sexual assault?

The abuse of older women is still relatively invisible to service providers and the general community in Australia.  It is a relatively under researched and hidden problem which occurs across the spectrum of our society and is often hard to recognise, unreported and hard to detect.   Older women tend to live longer than men and are more likely to be financially abused after their partner dies, are more likely to be abused by a broader range of family members and are more likely to be dependent on the Aged Pension. Whilst more older men than younger men are abused, international and national researchers have found that more older women than older men are abused, more often than not by younger and older men in their families.   Researchers have found that older women are particularly at risk of neglect (in particular when over 85),  financial abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse and sexual abuse.

What part do power and control dynamics within interpersonal/intimate relationships play in situations of abuse against older women?

In my view the abuse of power is more often than not central to all forms of abuse.  As women age they can become increasingly more dependent on family members and others for care and support, which can place them more at risk of abuse. In particular, a decline in their health status can make them more vulnerable.  Ageist and sexist attitudes in the community contribute to this process and can make it difficult for women to leave abusive situations.

How would adopting a model of primary prevention reduce incidences of abuse against older women?

Primary prevention and early intervention are both essential if we want to reduce the incidences of violence against women.  However, more resources are  needed for this to happen. Primary prevention should be multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary and include addressing contextual and structural issues (such as the ageist attitudes that are prevalent in our community), raising community awareness of the problem, and  educating and training religious and other community leaders,  legal, health, mental health and social science professionals, police and others in the criminal justice system so they are more able to identify, understand and refer older women who are at risk of abuse. There is also a need to strengthen the social support networks of older people and to use participatory models which empower older people to take ownership and  maintain their independence and quality of life.

What are some key future directions for dealing with family/domestic and sexual violence against older women?

In addition to the points I have already made, I think that we need interdisciplinary understanding and a coordinated, multiple service system response to victims, perpetrators and the social networks surrounding the victims. A comprehensive service system response needs to draw from a range of theories and approaches – in particular holistic, feminist, strengths-oriented and empowering approaches which address the social, political, economic, legal and cultural context - and provide a continuum of service options tailored to meet the specific and unique needs of older people at risk. Finally,  I encourage professionals and researchers from the ageing and domestic violence sectors to engage in more dialogue and collaboration as they have much to learn from each other.

For more resources from the 'Equal and Different' Forum, including a podcast of Dr Bagshaw's address, visit our Forums page.

Image credit

Photo from Flickr by JasonChamberlain (used under a Creative Commons license)