As defined by the United Nations in 1993, domestic violence is ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering. This Includes threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or in private life.’
Abuse of the Elderly is a wide ranging term that includes physical abuse, active and passive neglect, material or financial exploitation, verbal abuse, sexual abuse and psychological or emotional abuse.
Domestic violence does exist in old age and it is something that will continue to grow as the population of older persons on St Helena increases. This violence can take the form of longstanding relationship abuse, violence that starts only in old age or violence that begins with a new relationship in later years. Very little is really known about the problem of domestic violence against older persons, especially on St Helena, but it is something that the Older Persons Service is trying to address and hopefully prevent for the growing older population. This response begins with educating ourselves about the changing relationships and roles that older persons experience.
Often, older women will have more traditional attitudes and values in their family roles, marriages and social activities. Because of this, it can be difficult for older women to feel comfortable discussing, seeking help or leaving abusive relationships, particularly when domestic violence is viewed as a private family matter. Many older women will blame themselves before admitting to being abused or treated poorly in a relationship, as they see it as their responsibility to keep the family together or to ‘keep the peace’.
Feelings of guilt can often lead older people to retreat from social settings and become even more isolated and prone to cyclical domestic abuse. Isolation in general is a factor that affects many of the older population on the Island, and this can make it difficult for some to seek help when their only companionships may be treating or using them in an abusive way.
Domestic and abuse of the elderly isn’t something new and the Older Persons Service wants to raise awareness of these issues affecting the older population. We want all people on the Island, old and young, men and women to seek help when they feel they are being treated in a way that is disrespectful.
Older Persons Service
15 November 2016