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Older women

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Older women who are being abused may have experienced patterns of violence throughout their lives from partners and/or family members, with specific issues for survivors including:

  • Exacerbated effects of abuse due to increased frailty and vulnerability to age-specific health issues.
  • Reduced employment opportunities, as a result of limited prior work experience or retirement status, which creates additional financial difficulties and may prevent them from leaving an abusive relationship.
  • Different perspectives, sense of identity, and values than younger generations and possibly service providers, which are influenced by societal and family values from an earlier generation. These may be characterized by more conservative attitudes about marriage and gender, sacrifice in periods of economic hardship, and institutionalized abuse.
  • Greater dependence on family members, whose attitudes can have significant implications for women's help-seeking and decisions to leave an abusive situation (e.g. if relatives deny the existence of violence, or expect the woman to tolerate the abuse as she has done in past) (Hightower et al., 2006; Hightower & Smith, 2002).

Shelters can make facilities and services more welcoming and suitable for older women by developing guidelines that assist shelter staff to effectively support older women. Such guidelines should be informed by the perspectives of older women within the context of the relevant culture and traditions of their generation. This is important in addressing resistance to recognizing the level and extent of abuse of older women, a result of ageism in many societies, which contributes to older women's silence about their abuse.

Practices to improve services for older women include (based on Hightower, et al., 2006. Working with Older Abused Women: Guidelines and Resource):

  • Providing outreach services targeting older women living in the community;
  • Providing a professionally-facilitated support group for older women;
  • Displaying images of older women in the shelter;
  • Providing forms and literature in larger type with clear backgrounds to make it easier for women with visual impairments to read;
  • Encouraging inter-agency communication and collaboration with organizations serving older women with disabilities, ethnic and immigrant services, services for indigenous women, and lesbian, transgendered, and bisexual organizations. Older women who face multiple forms of marginalization may experience additional barriers that should be identified and addressed;
  • Providing training and education for staff on prevention and services for older women.

Example: Transitional Housing for Elders (United States)

The Elder Transitional Housing and Outreach Initiative in Maine (United States) is collaboration between domestic and sexual violence agencies and the Elder Abuse Institute of Maine, with support from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.  Since 2009, the agencies provide transitional housing and supportive services to survivors over 60 who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking are need of transitional housing. The programme includes a 3-bedroom shared residence for survivors, with one bedroom designed for wheelchair accessibility. The house is not staffed, but is in a confidential location and available for survivors to stay for up to two years. Complementing the safe home, domestic violence agencies provide community-based outreach supports, including: housing assistance, case management, counseling, job placement assistance, referrals to health-related services, financial assistance for securing housing (e.g. security deposit), resources to access transportation, legal and court advocacy, support and safety planning, and emergency shelter.

Source: Elder Abuse Institute of Maine. The Elder Transitional Housing Initiative.


Interactive Training Exercises on Abuse in Later Life (Bonnie Brandl and Deb Spangler for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2004). This manual is for experienced facilitators working with professionals in the fields of domestic violence and sexual assault, elder abuse/adult protective services, aging, health care, justice and others. The manual provides guidance for 16 exercises focusing on several key training points, such as the dynamics of elder abuse, barriers to help-seeking, power and discrimination, service delivery, and safety planning. A list of relevant resource materials and related links are provided to facilitate development of a training programme. Available in English. 

Working with Older Abused Women: Guidelines and Resource (Hightower, et al., 2006). Available in English.