This month is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month 2021
Sadly domestic abuse is not as rare as you’d think, here I am thinking particularly of the elderly.
The elderly are perhaps some of the most vulnerable in our society and there were 280,000 people in 2019 aged 60 to 74 who experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales*.
Statistics suggest the majority of elderly victims are female and the abusers male. Sometimes even resulting in death, one in 5 deaths in the home environment involve victims aged over 60 (Age UK 2020).
Shockingly the main cause of death by stabbing. The perpetrators of these crimes are often close family members and equally likely to be a spouse or a (adult) child or grandchild.
It can take several incidents before the person affected finds the strength to come forward.
No matter how old they are people need the confidence to report abuse and know it will be taken seriously, and that services are there to help and support them. It also means as a society we have to pay attention to possible signs of abuse in all age groups and then have the courage to investigate or report it.
In the case of the elderly there may be added barriers stopping them speaking out.
As therapists we have a duty of care to all our clients who may find it very difficult for a variety of reasons to verbalise what is happening. In the elderly there may be many things holding them back from speaking out. The shame of having to admit frailty or vulnerability or a loved one being the perpetrator, the fear of losing a home or much needed assistance with domestic chores, help with technology, or loosing access to grandchildren, misguided and unjustified self-blame, the list goes on.
What has happened to the prevalence and nature of domestic abuse during lockdown?
In a collaboration with the Strategic Insights Unit (SIU) crime economists, Ria Ivandic and Tom Kirchmaier sought to answer this question by analysing data from calls to police and recorded crime in London. For those suffering domestic abuse in the home, research shows the Covid19 lockdown domestic abuse calls to the police increased by 11.4 per cent on average compared to the same weeks in 2019. Initiatives were brought into play in light of the situation to alleviate the issue of domestic abuse victims not being able to contact the police, for example SIU and LSE launched a targeted social media campaign to promote the Silent Solution, which allows victims to contact the police with minimal verbal communication. Lessons have been learned during the extreme covid situation and strategies put in place need to continue as we move out of lockdown. Just because domestic abuse is hidden may mean it does not get so much attention but as therapists we do need to be aware of it’s possibility.
Much is spoken about quite rightly in terms of safeguarding for children but we also need to consider really listening to all age groups including older people who may report feelings of anxiety, depression or simply being overwhelmed. Talking therapists can provide a safe, non-judgemental and confidential space where clients can work through their experiences. Paying attention carefully is important, as is asking the right questions, building trust and good rapport essential too, this is true in any therapeutic relationship of course, paying attention to what is said about that persons relationships and home life. If it becomes a safeguarding issue then taking it to a supervisor where advice is needed and taking the appropriate steps if it needs to be investigated further to help safeguard your client.
*Crime Survey for England and Wales https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/domesticabuseprevalenceandtrendsenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2020
Helpline: for violence against women United Kingdom - 0808 2000 247