The Stateswoman Archive

Domestic Violence Later in Life

by Judy Van Brodjesky

Our society’s awareness of domestic abuse has certainly increased since the first shelters were established in the 1970’s. But 30 years later we still have three times more animal shelters than shelters for abused women and children. Change takes a very long time, and we still have far to go.

Most of us imagine a victim of domestic abuse to be a young woman. In fact, statistics reveal the average age of victims is between 18 and 24. But there exists an invisible population of victims in our society. They are the wives and mothers who married 40 or 50 years ago, at a time when tradition held strong that duty was to husband, children and home.

Older victims of domestic abuse face additional obstacles compared to their younger counterpart. She may have never worked outside the home or had any involvement with money matters. She may have no retirement or pension plan of her own and must depend on her partner’s social security. Her need for health coverage becomes vital to her well being, especially if health problems emerge. Any self-esteem she had has been destroyed over the many years of abuse. Depression and guilt sets in for not leaving when her children were younger.

Statistics now reveal the psychological damage inflicted upon children from violent homes can last a lifetime. Her adult children may even resent her for not leaving sooner. His abuse may have lessened over the years, but the scars upon her soul run deep. She feels broken, alone and ashamed to ask for help.

Abusers use many tactics to keep control over their victims. They often tell us the psychological abuse leaves more emotional pain than any physical attack. The following are some of the tactics used by abusers:

  • Threatens to leave, divorce, commit suicide or have her institutionalized;
  • Abuses or kills pets or prized livestock;
  • Denies access to church or clergy and isolates her from family and friends;
  • Humiliates, demeans and ridicules her;
  • Takes away her walker, wheel-chair, glasses, dentures and makes her miss medical appointments;
  • Steals money, titles, or possessions;
  • Takes over accounts and bills and abuses a power of attorney.

Some tactics may seem small, but over the years they wear down the victim’s sense of identity. Bonnie Brandl with The Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Jane Raymond with the Wisconsin Bureau on Aging and Sharon Lewandowski with the Department of Health and Family Services have worked tirelessly to better understand the special needs of older victims. Because of their efforts, some domestic abuse agencies have received additional funding for specialized programming.

The Women’s Community, Inc. in Wausau is privileged to have received one of the grants for the Northern Region. We offer a support group for women over 50 and provide counseling, housing assistance, legal and medical advocacy, information and referral for employment, and budget counseling.

Our daughters need to see that violence is never acceptable; that they deserve to be treated with respect. They will be watching their mothers and grandmothers. If we can reach out to older victims, we can offer them options and support. They may never be able to leave their relationships, but they will know that the abuse is not their fault. They will know that they are not alone.

Judy Van Brodjeski is the Transitional Living Program Coordinator and the Domestic Abuse in Later Life Specialist at The Women’s Community in Wausau, 715-842-5663.

This article first appeared in the March 2002 issue of the Wisconsin Women’s Network newsletter The Stateswoman.