Blog Post

Program helps older domestic violence victims

Domestic Violence Awareness Month, observed in October, shines a light on domestic violence, including abuse between spouses and other intimate partners. SeniorLaw Center (SLC), a nonprofit that aims to improve the lives and protect the rights of older Pennsylvanians, is also shining a light on a particular aspect of this abuse: its older victims. “Older adults are a hidden population within the domestic violence community, and they can face some unique barriers,” said Dana Goldberg, SLC’s director of victim services.

Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Violence against Women, SLC expanded its services for Philadelphia’s domestic violence victims age 60-plus and education of seniors and senior-serving professionals on the issue, as well as resources available to help. Through the expanded program, entitled “Strengthening the Economic Security of Older Victims of Domestic Violence,” SLC helps victims to create safety and economic security plans in addition to providing legal assistance. The agency’s program serves both men and women who are victims of physical, emotional and sexual intimate partner abuse, Goldberg said.

SLC has served older victims of intimate partner violence since its inception nearly 40 years ago. “What inspired us to pursue this grant and expand our work in this area was the realization that older victims are a hidden community, often isolated and without support,” Goldberg said.

Since it launched its expanded program in 2015, SeniorLaw Center has assisted 215 older victims of intimate partner violence; educated more than 1,500 older adults about the issue and resources for help, and trained more than 320 senior-serving professionals on how to address this problem.

Victim services include:

  • Legal actions to assist survivors in having their abusers removed from their homes
  • Spousal support actions
  • Legal assistance with housing issues (including fraudulent deed transfers) to guarantee that survivors can remain in their homes
  • Legal assistance to prevent or address abuse by a Social Security representative payee and/or power of attorney
  • Information on and assistance with financial assistance for crime victims
  • Assessment of physical, emotional and emergency needs and referral to resources to address those needs
  • Connecting survivors to resources to change locks, install security bars and other immediate safety needs

A hidden community

Senior victims are reluctant to come forward, and they are underrepresented in domestic violence statistics, experts say. The violence in their intimate partner relationships is often embedded in long and complex family histories that may include marriages of many years.

“Think of a senior having to pick up and leave a spouse at 70 years old,” Goldberg said. “We’ve had some clients who never worked, never accumulated money on their own and do not even have Social Security. They never handled bill payments. They’re afraid of having their house foreclosed on or not being able to make the rent and meet living expenses if the abuser no longer provides for them. They’re afraid of leaving all that is familiar to them. Many are frail, which can make it difficult to take action or even to endure the process of coming to court.”

“Without ensuring that abusers cannot live with their victims, without ensuring that victims are free from financial manipulation by their abusers, and without ensuring additional means of financial independence and economic security, senior survivors are more likely to be dependent upon their abusers and to continue in or return to their abusive situations,” SLC’s website notes.

“We help empower clients to make decisions and let them know they have options,” Goldberg said.

SLC works with the city’s police department, family court, domestic violence prevention and advocacy organizations, and health and social service professionals to identify senior domestic violence victims. SLC draws on its own attorneys, attorneys and advocates from outside the agency, and experts from social service and health organizations to provide assistance and promote victims’ dignity and independence.

For more information or to request legal assistance, call the SeniorLaw Helpline at 215- 988-1242 or (toll free) 877-727-7529 Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to noon. To request a presentation for seniors or training for professionals about intimate partner violence in older adults and resources for victims, call 215-988-1244. Information is also available at seniorlawcenter.org.

CAPTION: Many older domestic violence victims are afraid to come forward. (iStock)