Somerset elderly domestic abuse victims offered help

A carer and patient hold hands
Image caption Increasing the visibility of domestic abuse among the over 50s is planned

"He was at the top of his profession so I was left wondering who would believe me."

The words of Margi, 62, who felt no-one would take seriously the fact her husband was sexually abusing her.

"We were married 13 years and it was during the last three to four years that he actually began to sexually abuse me really badly," said Margi, who lives near Bath.

Her story demonstrates how older victims of domestic abuse put up with violence because they are "conditioned into thinking they're not worth anything," says Julie Howard, who runs North Somerset Against Domestic Violence.

Regional campaign

"It's particularly distressing because you think of your granny and of people approaching retirement and you don't think of them having to deal with a fraught and stressful relationship every day," she explained.

"We see at least one case a week of domestic abuse among the over 50s".

It was experiences like Margi's that prompted the charity Chapter One to commission a study to see if services offered were best fit for purpose, after it took over responsibility for an Integrated Domestic Abuse Service in Somerset, last July.

Dr Julie McGarry, of the University of Nottingham, carried out the research which included talking to elderly victims of domestic abuse.

"We found older women in particular didn't have the mechanisms to report violence as in a societal context domestic violence has not been viewed as a crime for very long," she said.

"And we talked about their different mobility needs and other requirements due to their age."

As a result of the study, a spokesman for the county council said it is planning "a regional campaign to increase the visibility of domestic abuse among older age groups".

Part of that will involve targeting GP surgeries and social groups, like knitting circles, with written material on where help is available and nursing homes to ensure staff know how to help if someone discloses details of abuse to them.

Image caption Self-contained flats are offered to elderly victims who need to escape the family home in Somerset

Personality changes

"Older people trust their GP, so they're more likely to speak to them in confidence," said Heather Stamp, area manager for Chapter One.

"If a partner is very controlling, the GP surgery is one place the victim is usually allowed to go out to, so it's a good place for us to put material offering help."

Mental and physical changes connected with aging are other factors which put pressure on relationships.

"Increased dependency and personality changes associated with physical and mental health all add to the pressures older people face but we can get help for them," said Ms Stamp.

For those elderly victims who need to escape the family home Somerset offers self-contained ground-floor flats.

"It's important for this age group not to be in shared accommodation as they are used to having their own things," Ms Stamp continued.

"Our staff come in and out to check they're ok and tell them about the help we can offer but they have their own front door."

For Margi, taking the step to leave her home was the start of a new life.

"Women of my age who've been in abusive relationships most of their lives need help to find out who they are," she said.

"My age group has no financial independence and they've invested time and had a family - they've got to walk away from everything and that's what traps them.

"On 21st December 2009, my life began again."

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