Who do you think of when you hear violence against women?
Older women may not come to mind, but many survivors of emotional, physical and sexual violence are senior women.
Jill Hightower, an advocate for older women’s safety and member of the Sunshine Coast Seniors’ Planning Table, said gender based violence against older women is often concealed within the term elder abuse.
“Elder abuse brings people together in one homogeneous group,” said Hightower. “When you get older, gender disappears and women are faced with increasing ageism and sexism.” In her research, Hightower interviewed many older women who described how violence they experienced at a young age and in early married life simply continued throughout their lives. Sometimes their children even become abusive in adulthood.
“If you are in your 70’s or 80’s, you were taught that the man was the king, you were married for life, you never talked outside of the family about problems, and that you made your bed,” said Hightower. “If women did try to talk about it they were likely to be dismissed.”
Limited income and the lack of safe and affordable housing options are huge barriers, according to Hightower. Older women often “fear losing the home that may have been their only home, losing all the things we collect over a lifetime. They may have health problems or physical disabilities.”
Women in their 50’s and 60’s also experience financial and emotional barriers. They may not yet qualify for seniors’ resources, but find limited opportunities for employment. “And the years of abuse they have endured make it difficult to think clearly and know they have choices,” adds Hightower.
Older women often do not know the resources available to them and think that existing services are only for younger women.
“Violence affects all ages, cultures and income levels,” said Keely Halward, program director at Sunshine Coast Community Services. “Approximately 25 per cent of women accessing our free services are over 50. Our services help women feel believed, valued and less alone. We honour women’s choices even if that means staying in their relationships. We help them find resources and create safety plans.”
To learn more about free programs for women or to donate, go to www.sccss.ca or call 604-885-5881.