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What Is Domestic Violence in Later Life?

Domestic violence in later life occurs when a person uses power and control to inflict physical, sexual, emotional, or financial injury or harm upon an older adult with whom they have an ongoing relationship. The aggressors include spouses and former spouses, partners, adult children, extended family, and in some cases caregivers. The problem occurs in all communities, and affects people of all ethnic, cultural, racial, economic, and religious backgrounds. 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 abuse in later life is the abusive use of power and control by a spouse/partner or other person known to the victim. 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.” In addition, the NCEA produced a complete series of briefs on late life domestic violence. To view the complete series, visit the “Publications” section of the NCEA website and select the topic “Domestic Violence in Later Life” from the menu.

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Resources and Links

Domestic Violence in Later Life:

Other Domestic Violence Resources:

Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation General Information

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