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Late Life Domestic Violence

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. It 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 connection and regular contact, ongoing physical contact and sexual behavior, identity as a couple, and familiarity and knowledge about each other’s lives. Perpetrators include current and former spouses or partners, or other individuals with whom the victim has an ongoing, personal relationship. This 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 victims. They often tell their victims where they can go, whom they can see, and how they can spend 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 control because they are “head of the household,” or because they are younger and physically stronger than their victims.

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 person known to the victim in a close, personal way. The domestic violence and aging networks are encouraged not to  draw lines between the two service systems. So, the goal is not to answer, “Is this domestic violence?”, or, “Is this elder abuse?” Instead, efforts should 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 (PDF).”

More about Domestic Violence in Later Life
Help with Domestic Violence

If you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence as an older adult, you are not alone. The resources below are great places to start a journey towards safety, hope, and healing.

Federal Domestic Violence Resources

These national organizations can guide you to more in-depth and knowledgeable resources in your community.

Global Elder Abuse & Violence Against Older Women

Thanks to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we know that violence, abuse, and neglect are global human rights and public health challenges. In addition to working towards preventing and responding to elder abuse in the U.S., ACL contributes to international dialogue on global elder abuse and violence against older women by lending technical expertise to partners in the U.S. State Department, HHS Office of Global Affairs, and multilateral organizations.

Federal Resources

  • HHS Office of Global Affairs: Promotes the health and well-being of Americans and of the world’s population by advancing HHS’s global strategies and partnerships and working with USG agencies in the coordination of global health policy, including dialogue with the World Health Organization on violence against women across the life cycle and elder abuse.

  • U.S. Strategy to Prevent & Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally: To further advance its commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, the Obama Administration has developed this strategy to prevent and respond more effectively to gender-based violence globally. The purpose of the strategy is to establish a government-wide approach that identifies, coordinates, integrates, and leverages current efforts and resources. Elder abuse and violence against women and girls across the life cycle are included in this strategy.

  • U.S. Department of State Office of Global Women’s Issues: Seeks to ensure that women’s issues are fully integrated in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy. The Office works to promote stability, peace, and development by empowering women and girls of all ages politically, socially, and economically around the world.

Multilateral Partners

Learn More About Global Elder Abuse & Violence Against Older Women

Last modified on 05/10/2017


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