TOO many over-55s are living in domestic violence but feel unable to speak out or seek help for a variety of reasons.
Relationships Australia South-West regional manager Sonya Kupfer is based in Toowoomba and said only about one in 10 people seeking help in the region were Seniors, but statistics suggested that the incidence of domestic violence was far higher than reported.
While advertising campaigns have concentrated on women in their 20s and 30s, domestic violence occurred at all ages and in all communities.
May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month, and Sonya said older women had particular hurdles to overcome in reporting domestic violence, but there were options.
"We know there are way too many reasons why people aren't disclosing and are therefore living in pain, but my message is you don't have to, you don't deserve to live in fear and you can get help," Sonya said.
Because many older women had not worked outside the home but raised the family while their husband earned and often controlled the money, they could be very financially dependent on their partner.
In many cases, the house was not even in their name, meaning the prospect of homelessness if they left an abusive partner.
There was also an old-fashioned belief that "what happens in marriage should stay within the marriage", embarrassment, and worry over how to answer the question "why did you stay so long?", and the fear that somehow "it's my fault; I deserve this".
There was also a tendency to minimise and excuse behaviours saying "he only gets angry on Fridays", or "it's only when he drinks".
Sonya said it was too easy to blame behaviour on drugs, alcohol or stress, saying "the drugs/drink/stress made me do it", but ultimately it was still that person who carried out the abuse.
Victim-blaming must also stop because no-one deserved to be physically, sexually or mentally abused.
In some cases, Sonya said, mental illness or dementia could bring out violence in a perpetrator who had until that time been a loving partner or child, and the victim can find it hard to divorce the old emotions and memories from what was happening now.
There was an over-riding belief that "it's not their fault" or "it's not who they really are".
Sometimes, she said, as in the case of elder abuse the perpetrator is actually the victim's carer, meaning an added dependency on that person.
Finally, many older women believed that if they reported domestic abuse and sought to leave their partner, they would have to leave their home town, their family, friends and supports, but that was no longer the case.
The question for victims, she said, was, "what do I have to give up in order to make this abuse stop?", and many found the cost was too great.
However, Sonya said, while the older you are the more you may feel you are walking away from, at the same time, the less time you have to love, live and enjoy life freely as you should be able to.
"People minimise what is happening and think 'this is my lot in life' and in some cases they are left waiting for their husband to die for the abuse to stop, but that's not enough, they need to know 'you're worth more than that'," Sonya said.
"These women need to know, you're an amazing human being who has already survived so much to this point, and you can survive again and flourish."
Toowoomba has two safe houses, one with communal and the other independent living.
There are specific domestic violence support services, as well as general family support services which have qualified workers with expertise in this area, and can offer support, advice regarding counselling, rights and services available.
Contacts in Toowoomba include Relationships Australia on 4638 4700 or 1300 364 277, and the Domestic Violence Action Centre (DVAC) on 4642 1354. You can also call DV Connect on 1800 811 811, Lifeline's crisis care on 13 11 14 and, for legal advice, The Advocate Support Centre (TASC) on 4616 9700 .
Domestic violence is ...
Domestic violence is behaviour by one person towards another with whom they are in a relationship. It includes:
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Emotional or psychological abuse
- Economic abuse
- Threatening behaviour
- Coercive behaviour and/or
- Behaviour that in any way controls or dominates or causes a person to fear for their personal safety or wellbeing.