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Monsura Mahmud is a Domestic Abuse Prevention Adviser for the Silver Project, a specialist service for women aged 55 and over affected by domestic and sexual abuse. The project is run by Leading Lights-accredited Solace Women’s Aid and provides one-to-one support, as well as training professionals who come into contact with older victims.

The person sitting in front of you has taken the hardest step of all: they’ve told someone about the abuse they’re experiencing. Now they need your help to become safe.

In my last post, I looked at some of the reasons older victims can find it difficult to seek help. But what happens once they’ve found your service? These barriers don’t simply go away. If your client is over 60, the chances are they’ve been living with the abuse for a long time – maybe even decades. This might be the first time they’ve ever reached out for help.

At the Silver Project, we see this scenario all the time, but we also know that because of a range of factors linked to age – health, mobility, financial security and isolation to name a few – keeping your client engaged can make offering support even more challenging.

1. Health and mobility issues are affecting the victim’s ability to access services

It can take longer for older victims to get the right support because they can’t get out as easily, don’t have anywhere safe to go or don’t have access to a mobile phone. This may be exacerbated by the fact the perpetrator is also their carer.

How can I help?

  • Be flexible in where and how you provide support – hold drop-in and outreach sessions at places older women feel comfortable or can access more easily, like health centres, GP surgeries and day/community centres
  • Meet face-to-face wherever possible and ensure any communication meets their needs – for example, using minicom, videophone or interpreting services for hard of hearing or deaf service users
  • Visit clients in their own homes, where safe to do so, and arrange joint visits with other professionals if their presence is reassuring for your client
  • Be aware of refuges that can accommodate carers

Stepping into a large organisation can be very overwhelming when you’ve already been through so much. Just taking the time to explain the service and what they do made a huge difference.

2. The victim has limited eligibility for housing, legal or financial support

Older victims might require specially adapted homes to help them live independently. This can limit the options available to them, particularly in areas like London where there is a lack of housing and a long waiting list for adapted properties.

If they have savings or a home of their own it could mean they are not eligible for legal aid. Others may face financial hardship as leaving the perpetrator can require costly care options.

How can I help?

  • Know the housing associations which operate in your area – some offer the option to register directly without going through the local authority
  • Be aware of local solicitors/legal services that offer pro bono support. Ask whether they can visit clients at home or in a safe location.
  • Ensure staff are trained on the needs of older people, including pensions and benefits available to them
  • Remember that all older people and carers have the right to request a Community Care Assessment. This can be a good way to work jointly with social services.

Getting Legal Aid was difficult, but I couldn’t give up and had to stay positive. The Silver Project gave me the extra support I needed.

3. The victim is reluctant to leave or has complex needs which make it difficult to do so

Older victims typically live with abuse for many years before getting help. This could mean that it will take them longer to deal with the trauma or leave the abusive situation at all.

They may have complex needs such as dementia or use alcohol as a coping mechanism. This can mean that you’ll need to work with clients on a longer term basis and steps to safety, such as re-housing, legal advice and access to care, may take longer.

How can I help?

  • Respect your client’s autonomy and their right to make decisions in their own life. They will leave when they are ready.
  • Help your client plan for their future safety. What have they tried in the past to keep themselves safe and is it working? Do they have a place to go if they need to escape?
  • Feelings of isolation significantly affect older people’s quality of life. Explore options like befriending services, local activities and day/community centres to help address this.
  • Give clients as much relevant information and assistance as possible, without overwhelming them, to help them make informed choices about their future. Where possible, give options in writing.

It's always good to see a familiar face. You can build a rapport and don’t have to keep repeating your story again and again.

4. The perpetrator is elderly or has health issues of their own

We often see cases where the perpetrator has dementia or memory loss, or conditions which are known to make them violent. The perpetrator may be viewed as vulnerable and not capable of serious harm. A criminal justice response may be seen as inappropriate, and could result in an inadequate or unsuitable response by professionals.

How can I help?

  • Where possible and safe, look for support services for the ‘vulnerable’ perpetrator as this may be the only way to ensure the victim’s safety
  • Recognise that your client may want to maintain the relationship and help the abuser. You must always support any decision they make.

In my experience, the best way to engage is to listen carefully and give all the support and resources you can.

5. The abuser is the victim’s adult child or grandchild

We find that victims in these cases are even less likely to report the abuse to the authorities. This is often because they still love their child and want them to get help. They may worry about being alone or even blame themselves for the abuse because of how the child was raised.

The perpetrator may also have complex needs, such as mental ill-health or problematic alcohol or substance use. However, unless they are a risk to the community, you may find that services are reluctant to intervene.

How can I help?

  • For the reasons outlined above, the options for clients in these situations can be limited. However, wherever possible, explore alternative solutions with your client – for example, we found that women were happier if a neighbour reported the abuse to the police, so we worked with them to agree a code word with a trusted neighbour.
  • Speak to other local domestic abuse services to find out about their experiences of this type of abuse. What worked for them?
  • Link in with specialists such as drug and alcohol services, housing and social care. If the person causing the harm is under 18, find out if there is a Young People’s Violence Advisor (Ypva) working locally.

You were always ready and willing to help, no matter what. You gave your time to listen – always.

Whatever challenges your clients face, it’s essential that you build strong partnerships with the services your client is already using. We work closely with local Age UK groups, as well as adult social care, care homes and sheltered accommodation, health services, the police and the fire service. Share information whenever appropriate, and visit the client together if it makes them feel more comfortable. By working together, you’ll achieve far greater outcomes and, ultimately, help more older victims to become sustainably safe.

Find out more

Throughout July and August, we're focusing on domestic abuse as it affects older people. Join our free webinars, listen to our new podcast and more on the Spotlight webpage.