Recognise your older self

In our focus on older survivors, our previous two blogs have focused firstly on the specific issues with older abuse, and secondly on what can be done about it. In this blog we will look at some case studies of older abuse. Looking at case studies makes the abuse more real, and some readers may relate to specific themes brought up. The studies used do not relate to women supported by Broxtowe Women’s Project.
Alice got married at the age of 20 and from the start there were little hints of what was to come from her husband Fred. She was put down all the time and made to feel worthless and inferior. At first Alice tried to put everything he did to her to the back of her mind and tell herself his behaviour was normal. In the 60’s she didn’t feel able to tell her friends what was happening to her. On one occasion she disclosed her suffering to her mother and was told it was too late, she’d married him so made her bed and had to lie in it. Over a period of years the verbal and psychological abuse Alice suffered from Fred completely eroded her confidence. She wanted to go to college but Fred told her she wasn’t capable of doing this. She believed him. He told her that her job was to look after the house and garden and to care for their daughter. What started as psychological violence escalated into physical violence after their daughter was born. Fred would hold her against the wall by her throat and twist her arm. Alice didn’t want to acknowledge that this was violence. After their daughter grew up and left home, Fred became more physically violent towards her, although hitting her and bashing her against the wall rarely left marks that Alice could complain about to anyone even if she’d wanted to. Alice put up with this for 36 years and eventually walked out at the age of 60 and sought help. When she left she didn’t know who she was and feared what her husband had repeatedly told her was true, that she was useless and stupid and wouldn’t be able to cope with life without him. Alice left her home and job and came to London with nothing. She spent 18 months in a refuge and gradually regained her self-esteem. Alice learnt to cope with life again, got her own home and at last resumed her studies.

Mary was raped by her husband on their first date. She was 17 and very naive but was very distressed when he forced himself upon her and made it clear it was not what she wanted. Mary fell pregnant and her parents were horrified and exerted pressure on her to accept Harry’s proposal of marriage. He frightened her and she had no feelings for him but felt she had no options. Together they had three children. From the outset, Mary became isolated from family and friends. She couldn’t speak to anyone about the rape and why she was frightened of her husband, she kept her feelings bottled up and became withdrawn. Harry forced sex on a habitual basis but although Mary never wanted it, she didn’t dare refuse him. As well as the sexual abuse, Harry was emotionally controlling and would make Mary feel worthless by telling her no-one else would want her because she was fat and ugly and that he was doing her a favour staying with her. There was no direct physical abuse but Mary became increasingly crushed by Harry’s behaviour towards her that when she was 52 and all the children had left home, she attempted suicide by overdosing. Following this she disclosed her situation to hospital staff for the first time and was referred by her GP for counselling. It was during counselling that Mary began to understand enormity of the abuse she had suffered. She was encouraged by her counsellor to access the help of a local Women’s Aid group and with their help and support found the inner resources to move out of her abusive marriage.

Elspeth had a happy marriage with one son. Her husband died five years ago leaving her living with her adult son David. David had always been difficult but was respectful while her husband was alive. Since his death, David became increasingly abusive towards his mother. He also developed a drink problem causing him to lose his job. He would demand money from Elspeth to pay for his drink and she was also aware he was smoking cannabis and gambling. Elspeth was in her early 70’s and was frightened of David’s temper. Although he never physically assaulted her, he would hold clenched fists in her face if she refused him money, or would walk around the house punching doors or smashing small objects and this would terrify her. Elspeth felt helpless, she was frightened of David, she was upset by what he had become and her emotions were torn. Out of loyalty to her husband and David, Elspeth never disclosed what was happening to anyone. One evening following a particularly long drinking session, David collapsed at home and Elspeth called for an ambulance. He was rushed to hospital but died the following week of acute liver failure. He had been ill for some time but refused to see his GP. Although David’s death signalled the end of her abuse, Elspeth was not surprisingly distraught by her son’s untimely death. She felt that if she’d just been a better mother, David might have been completely different. Following his death, Elspeth began to try to re-build her life, but the horror of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her son and the mixed emotions this caused continued to haunt her.

How Broxtowe Women’s Project can help older survivors.
Listen to you. Older survivors in particular have often lived with the abuse for many years without disclosing their suffering to anyone, not even close friends and family. Older women often believe that being abused is shameful and for this reason are less likely to talk about it, not even to their closest friends. We know how important it is to be listened to. Just to be able to tell your story to someone who will listen without judgment, understand, and help you to make sense of what has happened in a supportive environments can be very therapeutic. It’s often the case that older survivors won’t leave the abusive relationship, but just to be able to express what they’re coping with can provide huge relief and validation in itself.
Counselling service. We offer the women we support free counselling. Counselling can help women to repair some of the damage caused by living with years of abuse.
Freedom Programme. This is a free 12 week group programme that we run. The Freedom Programme involves active participation and educates women about the various patterns of domestic abuse in a safe and supportive environment. The majority of women on our current programme are older survivors and the mutual support and shared experiences can be invaluable to them.
Support your safety. The safety of women we support is our top concern. Older survivors are often more vulnerable because they have often suffered abuse for longer and are more likely to be suffering from age related health conditions too. We always conduct risk assessments and depending on the issues these raise, we can work with women to improve their safety. From discussing safety planning, helping to report matters to the police, referring to a Multi -Agency Risk Assessment Conference. It might be that we can make referrals for Social Care support women’s behalf. We also work with the council to help improve home security when needed.
Housing help. Although older women are less likely than younger women to flee abuse, should women want a move, we can often help by supporting their applications for priority council moves. If the abuse is serious and the need to flee is immediate, we will often be able to access refuges for women.
Legal surgery. We work with a local solicitor and offer free legal appointments which help women to know what their legal options might be.
Financial hardship. Women suffering domestic abuse will often be suffering financial hardship. Economic abuse is particularly a factor for older women who may be restricted from holding their own bank account. We will support women to claim all the benefits they’re entitled to, and apply for additional benefits they may not have considered. In extreme hardship we can access food parcels. There are also a number of charitable grants we may be able to access depending on need. We can also access furniture and paint from local charities depending on need.
Signposting to other support agencies. It is our business to have knowledge of other support services, from local community groups to health and Social Care support. We will often signpost the women we support to other agencies and groups as appropriate.
Emotional support with Criminal and County Court. Whether facing criminal court as a victim of abuse, or attending the County Court when applying for a civil injunction, the process can be daunting, often particularly so for the older survivor. Our staff have experience of the court systems and processes and can provide direction, help and emotional support that can make facing the court process easier.
At Broxtowe Women’s Project we will work with your agenda and respect your wishes. It’s important that we empower the women we work with since domestic abuse has the habit of disempowering. We never judge and understand that for some women, it will never be possible for them to walk away from the abuse. But to just have someone there to listen, understand and be there for them can be very powerful.