Many older survivors will seek the help of domestic and sexual violence advocates and programs in dealing with the abuse they experience. Older victims can benefit from many of the services traditionally offered by domestic violence and sexual assault programs such as individual and peer counseling, support groups, emergency and transitional housing, and specialized economic and legal advocacy. However, domestic violence and sexual assault programs have not customarily served many victims age 50 and older. Typically, staff working in domestic violence or sexual assault programs have more experience working with younger populations than older individuals.
Notwithstanding these challenges, advocates and programs can have a profound and positive influence in the lives of older survivors. Advocates can use their specialized skills and training and their confidential relationship with survivors to help them better understand the dynamics of abuse; to be aware of the available options, services, and resources; and to assist them as they navigate through complex intervening systems. Advocates and programs can also help to combat ageist social norms by promoting dignity and respect for persons of all ages in their work and service programs.

Selected Resources

Abuse in Later Life Education Series for Advocates
Abuse in Later Life and Elder Abuse page

These resources offer an overview of abuse in later life and abuse dynamics, discuss the importance of providing a survivor-centered response, and assert the critical role collaboration can play in abuse in later life cases.

Confidentiality & Mandatory Reporting
Domestic Violence in Later Life

The following resources explore domestic abuse against older adults that is perpetrated by a spouse or intimate partner.

Partnering to Address Faith and Safety

These tools provide ideas for best practices and strategies for domestic and sexual violence service providers and faith leaders to use when building partnerships that support older victims and survivors.

  • Pursuing Respect and Justice for Faith-Engaged Older Victims of Abuse — this webinar explores how faith can be both a barrier and a resource for older victims and how partnerships between service providers and faith leaders can strengthen well-being and support for older victims of abuse. The webinar also discusses resources and available training that could help you enhance the quality of life of older victims in your community who are faith-involved.
Safety Planning

These safety planning resources provide examples of safety plans that can help older survivors think about planning for their safety and prepare in advance for the possibility of future violence.

Other pages in this section

Civil Attorneys
Civil attorneys and other civil legal system professionals work each day to ensure victim safety and hold offenders accountable for harm to older survivors. Their knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of elder abuse, as well as the legal remedies and non-litigation resources available to older survivors, are critical in developing effective intervention strategies to end elder abuse and prevent further harm to older adults.
Faith Leaders
Many older Americans turn to their faith communities and faith leaders for help when they are experiencing abuse. Older survivors know and deeply trust faith leaders and community members and often reach out for assistance in times of great need. As a faith leader, you can play a critical role in responding to abuse as well as improving access to services and supports for older survivors in your community.
Healthcare Providers
Health care providers are in a unique position to identify and respond to abuse in later life. Often, many older adults, especially survivors, have an ongoing relationship with one or more health care providers. Primary care physicians, emergency room staff, geriatricians, dentists, physical therapists, and other providers each have an opportunity to see injuries suggesting abuse, neglect, or exploitation, or indicators of trauma.
Law Enforcement
As first responders, law enforcement officers can play a key role in providing an effective response to abuse in later life at the local level. In many cases, law enforcement can use tools already used in domestic violence, stalking, child abuse, and sexual abuse cases to interview victims and gather evidence. Officers can also benefit from learning about abuse in later life and abuse dynamics; appropriate referral resources for intervention and support for older victims; and working collaboratively with other organizations.
Professionals Working in Tribal Communities
In many cultures, elders preserve traditions and share wisdom to help ensure community permanency and balance. Indigenous communities often hold elders in a unique and important social position. The dramatic increase in the number of older individuals has led to concern over the well-being of older adults in these communities.
A significant number of reported cases of elder abuse do not progress through the criminal justice system. Whether an elder abuse case is successfully prosecuted may depend on a prosecuting attorney’s familiarity with effective investigation and prosecution strategies. Further, prosecutors must be able to collaborate across disciplines to increase victim identification, to encourage victims to engage with the criminal system, and to ultimately hold more offenders accountable.
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