When Domestic Violence Matures

By on March 1, 2012

By Tonya Genison-Prince –

Wearing sophistication, Ella, a woman in her 60s walked into the domestic violence office just as reluctantly as every younger woman I had ever encountered. My work with Ella was the first time that I had taken notice of any differences between working with women over 50. Being southern, young and “raised right” as they say I called her Miss Ella but she quickly put an end to that. She also put a quick end to some of my other well intentioned assumptions. When I take a look back at my almost 20 year career as a domestic and sexual violence advocate I feel a debt of gratitude to all of the Ellas who taught me so much about serving the needs of women 50+.

I can’t tell you how valuable this education was because it is hard to come by. Just do an internet search on domestic violence and women over 50 and you will find that there aren’t many resources nor large amounts of information geared to these women. Most services are focused on younger women. Women from this particular age group are lumped into a category and called victims of “elder abuse”. It is not the name so much as the fact that the term elder abuse also refers to women abused by their children or caretakers. There is a real need for domestic violence services and understanding of the needs women 50 and over.

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Some people would like to lump women 50 and over into one big category but as quiet as it is kept, women over 50 encompasses more than one generation. It is a huge mistake to make assumptions based on any person’s age. Women 50 and even wiser are very diverse in their ways of thinking about sexuality, relationships, gender roles and domestic violence.

The reasons that abuse may escalate for these women are numerous and complex. They include disability, illness, retirement, sexual changes, and revision of family roles. In fact some abusers become even more violent once the children have moved out of the home and he feels free to abuse more often and with greater intensity now that there are no witnesses. With all of the changes and adjustments the abused woman may find that whatever she used to do appease him or avoid an abusive episode seems to have a declining effect.

So why do women stay? Well, the lack of resources certainly doesn’t help. Then in Ella’s case when she was young she remembers being taught that a woman was supposed to do everything that she could to hold onto a man especially if she was “lucky enough” to have one after the age of 45. Like many other women, Ella’s home was the family home. It was the home where everyone came to at Thanksgiving to eat and Christmas to exchange gifts. For the children who lived close by it was the place to be on summer days for the outdoor barbeques.

All those years she had stayed for the children so that they would grow up in a “proper” two parent home. Now that they were out of the home and off on their own it dawned on her that she was still placing what she firmly believed to be the needs of her children ahead of her own safety and happiness. And she also found herself thinking about the grandchildren who will miss seeing grandma and papa together, at the same time? Ella found it difficult to get past the feeling that it would be selfish of her to break up the family if she left her husband.

And how can we forget the financial obstacles that cause most abused women to pause long and hard? Divorce is not an attractive option to those women who will have to enter a job market that is less than friendly to women 50 and over. Besides, where will they go to live? Women in this age group don’t often have the luxury of moving back in with their parents, their friends are usually married, and the last thing that they want to do is move in with their children.

Whatever happened to Ella? Well Ella did got an order of protection. Together we developed a safety plan which is a list of strategies that every survivor of domestic violence should develop in order to stay safe.

Here is what you can do. Now, while an internet search will not have a whole lot about domestic violence in women 50+, but you will find volumes of information on how to develop a safety plan. Be mindful of your fellow woman in need. Ask questions and be a resource. I’d also advise that women of this beautiful age group lift their voices and make themselves heard. We can do this through social media, blogs, articles, books, and public speaking. Individually you are strong. Together you are indomitable.


Tonya Genison Prince is an expert in domestic and sexual violence. She is the founder of the not-for-profit organization, Braid the Ladder and a blogger at www.Comebackwoman.com. Available for speaking engagements, coaching, and advocacy.  

About Tonya Prince

Tonya Genison Prince is an expert in domestic and sexual violence. She is the founder of the not-for-profit organization, Braid the Ladder and a blogger at www.Comebackwoman.com. Available for speaking engagements, coaching, and advocacy.

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When Domestic Violence Matures