Domestic Violence in Later Life Pt. II

This is part II in a series. Part one can be found here.

The National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) defines abuse in later life as, “the willful abuse, neglect, abandonment, or financial exploitation of an older adult who is age 50+ by someone in an ongoing, trust-based relationship (i.e., spouse, partner, family member, or caregiver) with the victim. NCALL also considers sexual abuse of an older adult by anyone (including strangers) to be abuse in later life. Our definition of abuse in later life does not include other types of abuse committed by strangers, or self-neglect. With these considerations in mind, NCALL’s definition of abuse in later life intentionally calls attention to the nexus between domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse.”

Here at Genesis, we often see women who are experiencing domestic violence later in life from their intimate partner. While there might be differing barriers for survivors of abuse later in life and varying tactics that the abusive partner uses, the power and control dynamics that are present with younger survivors are no different. When women have been in abusive marriages — sometimes for as long as 30-35 years — it is evident that the pervasive patterns of power and control have been present throughout the history of the relationship. One of the main tactics that creates barriers for survivors is financial abuse.

Controlling access to finances

Often when abuse continues to occur later in life there has been financial abuse present for many years. An abuser can control his partner financially by limiting her access to accounts, giving her a strict allowance, or even withdrawing his financial support altogether. With this amount of control, it creates an environment of fear that if she asks questions about her financial concerns, it is often met with an episode of verbal and emotional abuse. Since he escalates in abusive behaviors when finances are brought up, he continues to his use of control by eliciting fear of what will happen when she questions him again. At Genesis we often tell our clients to consider safety first when challenging an abusive person, as many times he may escalate in abuse in order to maintain the control.

Spends or sells without permission

Some women find out that their abusive partner has made financial decisions without her consent or knowledge that greatly impact the family. This may be selling or buying property without her knowledge, failing to pay bills on time or spending money without her knowledge. This behavior can go unnoticed for a long period of time until the damage has detrimentally impacted the family’s financial situation. It is not uncommon that an abuser will also put the unpaid bills, purchases or property under her name, creating a variety of legal and financial issues.

Financial barriers to safety

Financial control can limit a woman’s ability to have choices when it comes to her safety and well-being. We know this to be true of any life stage, but for women later in life, this can present challenges that greatly impact her medical care, access to resources to provide for her or her family long-term, and ability to care for herself or her family in the future. This can be incredibly difficult for women who are looking to the future without access to financial resources due to the control of the abuser.

If you are starting to recognize financial abuse as a part of your relationship, or if you recognize it in a friend or loved one, it is important to consider how financial control can impact your safety later in life. At Genesis we consider ALL tactics of power and control to be abuse, and recognize the specific concerns that are present at each stage of life. For more information and signs to look for on abuse in later life, please visit www.ncall.us.

Written by Faith Brugner, women and children’s therapist at Genesis Women’s Shelter

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