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Administration on Aging (AoA)

What Is Domestic Violence in Later Life?

Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, describes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression (including coercive acts) by a current or former intimate partner and can occur across the lifespan to victims of all ages, including older adults. An intimate partner is a person with whom one has a close personal relationship that can be characterized by: emotional connectedness and regular contact; ongoing physical contact and sexual behavior; identity as a couple; and familiarity and knowledge about each other’s lives. Perpetrators include spouses and former spouses, current or former partners, or another individual with whom the victim has an ongoing, personal relationship. The problem occurs in all communities, and affects people regardless of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Although most victims are female, men can be harmed, too.

Generally, abusers use a pattern of coercive tactics, such as isolation, threats, intimidation, manipulation, and violence, to gain and maintain power over their victims. Often they tell their victims where they can go, whom they can see, and how they can spend their money—in other words, control their decisions. Some abusers use their role and power to financially exploit their victims. Others feel that they are entitled to get their way because they are the “head of the household,” or because they are younger and physically stronger than their victim is.

Some experts view late life domestic violence as a sub-set of the larger elder abuse problem. Elder abuse, broadly defined, includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse, financial exploitation, neglect and self-neglect, and abandonment. The distinctive context of domestic violence in later life is the abusive use of power and control by a spouse/partner or other person known to the victim in a close, personal way. The domestic violence and aging networks are encouraged not to try to draw fine lines between the two service systems. That is, not to try to answer, “Is this domestic violence?”, or, “Is this elder abuse?” Rather, efforts should be made to maximize the capacity of both systems by partnering to meet older victims' unique needs.

To learn more about the relationship between elder abuse and domestic violence, please read the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) issue brief “Late Life Domestic Violence: What the Aging Network Needs to Know.”

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Resources and Links

More about Domestic Violence in Later Life

For Help with Domestic Violence

If you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence as an older adult, you are not alone. The resources listed below are great places to start your journey towards safety, hope and healing. Many of these national organizations can guide you to more in-depth and knowledgeable resources in your community and surrounding areas.

Federal Domestic Violence Resources

Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation General Information

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Last Modified: 12/31/1600