A healthier approach

In the second of our blogs about domestic abuse and older women, we look at the role health professionals can play in helping survivors

At Broxtowe Women’s Project, we are determined to make ourselves accessible to all women suffering abuse. In our previous blog, it was identified that despite suffering high levels of abuse, older survivors are ‘slipping through the net’ of support services.

They’re often not pro-active in requesting help, but more worrying, even when they present themselves to police or health professionals, their situation is far less likely to be identified as resulting from domestic abuse.

This is due to a common myth that abuse simply doesn’t happen in older women. Having identified that older survivors are not being adequately supported, what can be done about it?

In research done by national domestic abuse charity SafeLives, health professionals were identified as being pivotal in helping to turn this situation around. Health professionals see a disproportionate number of older women. With training to encourage them to ask probing questions about injuries, and to make them feel confident enough to provide an appropriate response, GPs, nurses and other medical staff are in an ideal position to identify vulnerable women and make appropriate referrals to support agencies.

Other than just referring on, there are other ways in which health professionals can actively support older survivors.

GPs can make referrals to counselling services, they can also ensure the anxiety and depression so commonly seen in survivors of abuse are appropriately identified and treated.

Medical staff could also be pro-active in completing risk assessments and making adult safeguarding referrals for older women. Referrals can also be made by medical staff to support services such as Broxtowe Women’s Project.

Health Centre waiting rooms are the ideal places where literature might be seen by older survivors. We know that older women are less likely to find information online, but this is where the majority of information about domestic abuse support services is located.

Not only is it helpful to display literature about support services in these locations, it’s also useful to include information about what constitutes abuse. Older survivors are less likely than younger women to identify their experiences as abuse, and so small chunks of educational literature could usefully be displayed in these locations.

Also, it’s helpful that such literature doesn’t just feature women in the under-30 age group, we know this helps perpetuate the myth that domestic abuse is a young women’s problem.

Suzanne Jacob, Chief Executive of SafeLives, said, “Generational attitudes can also mean that, sadly, people can have been living with abuse for decades without ever being able to name it as abuse. Jacob also wants to see more targeted publicity in places like GP surgeries and bus stops.

Suzanne Jacob pioneered the ‘Change that Lasts’ project, working with frontline professionals in health and social care to help them identify and understand domestic abuse, and to feel confident enough to offer support and a helpful response to older survivors. Jacob said: “We’d like to see professionals in all agencies given the tools and training to recognise the signs of abuse in older people, and to know that domestic abuse doesn’t always take the form you might expect. It doesn’t have to be physical to be domestic abuse.”

 At Broxtowe Women’s Project, we are implementing a range of changes so that we can be more accessible to older survivors.

Our staff are trained in the specific issues affecting older survivors of abuse and understand that their needs might be different to the needs of younger women.

We are pioneering a project where we’re working together with staff at GP surgeries to provide training and encourage more referrals of older survivors. We are also leaving our literature in places more likely to be frequented by older women, such as medical centres, libraries and day centres.

We continue to strive to improve our service and until women are no longer suffering abuse, our job won’t be done.