Betty is a 67-year-old woman who lives with her grandson. She is a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend. Betty has spent the past 5 years of her life in fear that her grandson will harm her. He constantly told her that she was a “worthless old woman”. Often, he would throw her possessions, breaking them against the wall when she didn’t respond quick enough to his demands. Other times, she would see him taking her valuable antiques out of the house. She assumed that he was selling them at a pawn shop for drug money. The part that broke Betty’s heart, was when he threatened to hit her if she didn’t give him cash or a check. This isn’t what family does, is it?

According to an article in *Elder Justice Roadmap, “Elder Abuse includes physical, sexual or psychological abuse as well as neglect, abandonment and financial exploitation of an older person by another person or entity that occurs in any setting (e.g., home, community or facility), either in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust and/or when an older person is targeted based on age or disability.”

Older victims may be abused by intimate partners, adult children, grandchildren, or other family members, caregivers or persons in a position of authority. Abusers will often strive to exert their power and control over victims for their benefit. For instance, to get money, a place to stay, access to prescription medicine or sexual gratification. These abusers are often greedy and feel entitled to do whatever is necessary to get what they want. They may financially exploit an older adult, feeling entitled to take a Social Security check or empty a bank account.

In order to maintain power and control, these abusers typically use a variety of tactics including physical and psychological abuse and isolation.  Abusers may intimidate their victims and prevent them from reporting the exploitation or abuse out of fear of retaliation. They may also lie and manipulate family members, friends, and professionals in order to hide or justify their behavior.

Betty eventually filed a protective restraining order against her grandson. With the help of her doctor, Betty was referred to an advocate that helped her with the process of starting a safer life without her grandson.

What can you do?

  • Talk to the older adult. Tell them you are concerned for their safety and you are there to help. Let them know that domestic violence, sexual abuse, and elder abuse do not stop without some form of outside intervention.
  • Offer to accompany them. Provide support by accompanying the older adult to speak with an advocate of domestic violence, sexual assault program or a social worker at an elder abuse agency.
  • Be part of their “safety plan”. A safety plan is created by the victim with the help of a professional. The intent is to plan for a victim’s safety needs before another violent episode erupts.

Remember it is ultimately their decision and you will need to honor their right to self-determination. If you believe they are in immediate danger and want law enforcement to respond, call 911 immediately.

Submitted by: Joan Spencer, Development Director, Community Referral Agency

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