As the American population continues to age, the topic of nursing home abuse and elder abuse is starting to come into public view. Unfortunately, it’s thought that only 1 in 13 cases of elder abuse are reported. Certain underrepresented demographics are more vulnerable to abuse than others, and it’s important to consider the factors that contribute to their abuse.
Women More Likely Victims of Elder Abuse
While early studies indicated that both men and women were fairly equal victims of elder abuse, more recent studies have demonstrated that women are more likely to experience some form of assault, both throughout life and over the age of 65. The most common perpetrators of elder abuse are males that are familiar to the abused, most often a spouse or family member.
Studies have also shown that women are the most likely to be abused in nursing homes as well. In these cases, as with the general population, the most likely perpetrator of abuse in nursing homes was a male employee of the home.
One significant risk factor for women is a simple matter of life expectancy. Women turning 65 in 2016 had a life expectancy, on average, of 86.6. Men turning 65 in 2016 had a life expectancy of 84.3. While this may seem like a small difference, the simple fact is that women live longer and are therefore more likely to need the services of a nursing home as they reach the later stages of life.
52% of women require the services of a nursing home at some point in their lifetime, compared to only 33% of men.
Through data collected by the U.S. Department of Health in 2013 and 2014, 66.8% of nursing home residents were women. Across all forms of long-term care services, 70.2% of residential care communities were home to women.
As women are generally more likely to be the victims of elderly abuse, and women are more likely to live in nursing homes, women are one of the demographics most at risk of being abused while under the care of a nursing home.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse That Women Experience
Women experience the same types of nursing home abuse that males encounter, including:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional, verbal or psychological abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
Sexual Abuse in Elderly Women
While both men and women fall victim to all forms of elderly abuse, sexual abuse is most imbalanced towards women, both in nursing homes, and in the home.
There is a widespread and perhaps dangerous misconception that the only victims of sexual assault are young women, but elderly women are also commonly victims of sexual abuse. Adding to this misconception, several studies have shown that older women are also less likely to report sexual abuse than younger women.
Despite being less likely to report sexual abuse, older women are significantly more likely to sustain serious genital injuries from sexual assault. This includes painful and lasting damage such as vaginal bruising, swelling, lacerations, abrasions, and bleeding. These injuries often require medical attention, and potentially even surgical repair.
Unfortunately, when these incidents go unreported, the victims do not require the proper care that is needed.
Why Don’t Elderly Women Report Abuse?
As cited above, only 1 in 13 causes of elderly abuse are reported.
Qualitative studies were undertaken to find out what barriers exist that prevent or discourage women from reporting elderly abuse.
Both externally focused and internally focused barriers were highlighted as potential reasons for why it’s rare for women to report abuse, largely motivated by fear, hopelessness, and a sense of rejection. Note that while men also under-report elderly abuse, they may not report it for different socio-political reasons.
- Fear of abuser: Women feel that reporting abuse will only worsen their relationship with their abuser.
- Fear of rejection: Women are worried their accusations will not be believed.
- Lack of services: Women don’t know the proper channels through which to report their abuse, or don’t feel like there is proper support to assist them.
- Lack of trust of law enforcement: Women don’t feel that law enforcement or the legal system will operate in their best interests or make a significant impact on their situation. Many would also rather avoid the headache of the legal system.
- Estrangement from family members: Abused women reported a distanced relationship from their children who had witnessed their abuse first-hand.
- Hopelessness: Women reported feelings of self-blame, entrapment, shame, a desire to keep their abuse a secret, and exasperation at their perceived inability to change their situation
- Damaging family relationships: Women worried that reporting abuse would tear apart existing family ties, including ties with the abuser.
- Protecting income and resources: Some women feel the need to prioritize their financial safety over their physical and mental safety.
- Concern for abuser: Close relationship with the abuser makes the abused woman fear for the consequences the abuser may face should she report the assault.
There are a number of psychological and systemic factors preventing women from seeking proper legal and medical assistance with respect to elderly abuse. It is important to continue to educate the population on the abuse elderly women face, and the resources available to them in the event of abuse.
- Rennison, C. M., & Rand, M. (2003). Non-lethal intimate partner violence against women: A comparison of three age cohorts. Violence Against Women, 9(12), 1417–1428.
- Desmarais, M. A. and Reeves, K. A. (2007). Gray, black, and blue: the state of research and intervention for intimate partner abuse among elders. Behavioral Science and the Law, 25, 377-391.
- Sexual Abuse of Older Adults, supra note 20, at 789
- Newman, F. L., Seff, L. R., Beaulaurier, R. L., and Palmer, R. C. (2013). Domestic violence against elder women and perceived barriers to help-seeking. Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect, 25, 3,205-229.