October 7, 2019 News

At least 200,000 older people experienced domestic abuse last year – but the experiences of over-75s are being entirely overlooked

Age UK is calling on the Government to ensure the voices of older people are heard, their rights are protected and their needs included in domestic abuse legislation that it must bring forward at the earliest opportunity.

This call is made after the Charity published a new report, The Hidden Face of Domestic Abuse, which highlights the fact that domestic abuse can happen at any age, including extreme old age. It also includes disturbing new figures about the extent of domestic violence among older people. In 2017 over 200,000 people aged 60 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales[1]. In addition, one in four (23%) victims of domestic homicides is over the age of 60[2] .

According to Age UK’s analysis of the Crime Survey for England and Wales for 2017/18, one in four (23%) victims of domestic homicides is over the age of 60[2] . There are about 139,500 older women and 74,300 older men who experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales that year and of these, two in three victims were female (67%) and four in five perpetrators were male (81%). Older people were almost equally likely to be killed by a partner/spouse (46%) as they were by their (adult) children or grandchildren (44%).[3]
While evidence suggests older women experience domestic abuse at similar rates to younger women, no data is collected about domestic abuse survivors past the age of 74 which means the true prevalence of domestic abuse amongst our older population is unknown. It is therefore not surprising that older people are also mostly absent from specialist support services (5).

The original Domestic Abuse Bill receives its second reading in Parliament on Wednesday 2 October. Age UK says any legislation must go further than simply looking at domestic abuse through a criminal justice lens. A new law should also recognise and support the role of health bodies in tackling domestic abuse and in helping victims and survivors to escape abusive relationships. It is also essential, the Charity says, that the law recognises that older people are affected by domestic abuse just as much as anyone else and that it includes provisions to ensure survivors get the help they need.

The Charity is calling for a new and more ambitious piece of draft legislation to be brought forward and that the views and needs of older people inform it and are listened to as the Bill progresses through Parliament. To do this, the Bill must reflect the following recommendations:

The definition of domestic abuse must include abuse perpetrated by those who are in trusted positions and provide unpaid care, including friends and neighbours, as well as family members. There is also a role for the Care Quality Commission, the care regulator, in ensuring there are sufficient safeguards in place to prevent abuse by a paid professional providing care.

There should be domestic abuse training for health care practitioners that covers the issues for older people, particularly for those clinicians concerned with hospital admissions and discharges because this is when an older person’s experience of abuse may first come to light.

Data on domestic abuse must be gathered for people of all ages – the cut off at age 75 for gathering these statistics must end.

Better links between the NHS and police are needed to ensure older victims of abuse are identified, protected and supported.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “There’s a widespread misconception that domestic abuse only happens to younger people, but sadly hundreds of thousands of older people are affected too. It’s high time that this was fully recognised by the law, policy and practice so that the needs of older survivors can be identified and properly met.

“Together with many other organisations, including the Women’s Aid Federation, we are calling on the Government to present a bold and ambitious Domestic Abuse Bill in next month’s Queen’s Speech. At Age UK we want this Bill to include provisions to bring older domestic abuse survivors in from the cold, and that means in particular recognising the important roles that health professionals can play in spotting when domestic abuse is going on and in supporting older survivors to get the help they need. It may well be that the first time domestic abuse comes to light is when an older person is admitted to hospital, or discharged back home, so it’s the professionals working with older people in these contexts who need some specific training the most.”

“The fact that no data is collected about domestic abuse survivors past the age of 74 has helped to keep the problem of domestic abuse in later life well and truly hidden, hindering efforts to get support to older people who desperately need it. This age limit is ageist, and a way must be found to collect this essential data from people aged 75 and over.“

“It is essential that we raise awareness and recognition of the abuse experienced by older people and ensure they know that organisations like Women’s Aid and Age UK are here to help, at any time in their life. With our population ageing we need urgent action and the Queen’s speech is an excellent opportunity to show the hundreds of thousands of older people living with domestic abuse that they are not forgotten and that we can and will take action to help them.”

Adina Claire, Acting Co-Chief Executive at Women’s Aid said:
“Domestic abuse can happen to any woman, regardless of age. We know, however, that some older women might not recognise their experience as domestic abuse or may find it difficult to ask for help because they are dependent on their abuser.
“Women’s Aid are pleased to have partnered with Age UK on the Trusted Professional strand of our Change That Lasts model, which has been designed to recognise a domestic abuse survivor’s needs and help her reach safety and freedom.
“We welcome Age UK’s recommendations for the domestic abuse bill, such as collecting data on all ages and embedding policy and practice across health and social care which will transform the support provided to older survivors, improving and saving lives. It is vital that their needs are considered in this legislation.”

Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, said:

“Domestic abuse can happen to women at any time in life. Time and again signs are not picked up by professionals. This can have devastating consequences.

“This is why we support Age UK’s calls for the Domestic Abuse Bill to collect data on all ages and for better training for health and social care services. It’s vital that all our public services are able to ask and take action about domestic abuse.”

For more info and the report – No age limit: older people and domestic abuse – https://www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/campaigning/no-age-limit/

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