Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse
‘Ignored, invisible, overlooked’
The Dewis Choice Project, a Welsh initiative, welcomed the article, “Action needed to tackle domestic abuse of over-60s, says Age UK” published in the Guardian on 2nd October 2019, raising awareness of domestic abuse in later life.
Sarah Wydall, Dewis Choice Project Lead says, “Our Wales wide research evidences the claims by Age UK that domestic abuse against older people is widespread and under recorded, and often an afterthought in research, policy and service provision designed to address domestic abuse.”
The Dewis Choice Project grew from our earlier research at the Centre for the study of Age, Gender and Social Justice, revealing a gap in knowledge and service provision for older people experiencing domestic abuse (Clarke et al., 2012; Wydall and Zerk, 2015, 2017). The research led to the launch of the Dewis Choice Project, established in 2015, which works with older people, local communities and practitioners to design and deliver a bespoke service responding to the diverse needs of older victims. The project is unique in its approach, integrating justice and well-being. Individuals are presented with a range of justice options including traditional criminal and civil remedies alongside restorative approaches. Whilst the well-being model, informed by our client’s experiences and needs, promotes independence and autonomy, which are often undermined by the abuse they have experienced. The combined justice and wellbeing approach ensures equal entitlement to rights and services.
Older victim, aged 75 said, “You made me feel important, not alone, and always gave me a purpose to carry on. I could always rely on you to be there for me. You always came when I needed you and you never let me down.”
Research Project Manager, Rebecca Zerk says, “The reciprocal relationship between the research and service provision provides a unique opportunity to embed victim’s voices into practice in a way that has not been done before with older victims of abuse.”
Our eight years of research found that practitioners across health, social care and domestic abuse, do not feel equipped or adequately trained to respond to older victim’s needs. In response we have delivered specialist research led training to over 5,000 practitioners across the UK.
Domestic abuse practitioners have raised concerns with Dewis Choice that they feel older victims are going under the radar and not getting access to specialist domestic abuse services, including those designed to respond to victims identified as high risk. Risk assessment tools designed for younger victims in intimate relationships do not adequately capture the diverse relationship dynamics and additional risks older people face. Informed by our research, we are developing a safety planning toolkit and practitioner guidance to fill this gap in knowledge, which will be made available to practitioners in early 2020.
Our research highlights that existing services are not always suitable for older victims and their needs. Services are often tailored towards safely relocating the victim-survivor, however, some may wish to remain within their existing community or continue to be in contact with the abusive person (Wydall and Zerk, 2017). This is further compounded when the abuse is perpetrated by an adult child or grandchild. Clients engaging with our research often tell us refuge was the only solution offered to them to improve their safety, but they had turned this down for reasons including; complex health needs, disabilities, fear for beloved pets and loss of their home. For older males, there is no refuge provision, which is particularly concerning given the increase in male victimisation in later life (Clarke et al., 2012). Many clients described needing long term, intensive support in addition to immediate safety planning, however, this was rarely available.
Dewis Choice has identified further gaps in research for specific groups of older people who face additional barriers to accessing help, including older males, those living with dementia and individuals from the LGBTQ+ community. In response to our findings, we have trained two male practitioners to support older males, and secured dedicated funding to capture the lived experiences of older individuals and their families where dementia and domestic abuse coexist. We are also producing a film to highlight the impact of domestic abuse from a range of older LGBTQ+ perspectives.
As a direct result of our research with older people in the community and older victim-survivors, our volunteers raised a petition to Senedd to call upon Welsh Government to transform the response to older people experiencing domestic abuse. The petition will be considered by the committee on Tuesday 15th October 2019. https://www.assembly.wales/en/gethome/e-petitions/Pages/petitiondetail.aspx?PetitionID=1397