Newsroom | Dignity Denied: Older Adult Abuse Focus of Domestic Vi

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Marie was in her late 50s, working in healthcare caring for others, when friends introduced her to a man she called her “dream.” For more than a year, their relationship blossomed. Then, things began to change.

Dignity Denied: Older Adult Abuse Focus of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Domestic Violence

Above: Regional Domestic Violence Chair Anita Norton, councilmember of El Mirage, embraces Marie, a domesitic violence survivor.

Domestic violence survivor Marie shares her  story during the recent Domestic Violence  Awareness Month News Conference.Marie* was in her late 50s, working in healthcare caring for others, when friends introduced her to a man she called her “dream.” For more than a year, their relationship blossomed. Then, things began to change.

“It began with my partner asking me to turn over money from my paycheck every week. If I refused or didn’t give him enough, he became very angry and threatening,” Marie related during a recent news conference. “He was continually insulting me, chipping away at my self-esteem and my dignity.  The financial and emotional abuse soon became physical. I felt my life was in danger.”

Marie said that’s when she knew something had to change.

“I was already financially, emotionally and spiritually dead. I was determined to live, and realized I needed to get out,” stated Marie. It took extensive planning and support from family, but Marie was able to successfully leave her abuser. She left the state she was living in and landed in Arizona, where she found more formalized support through a domestic violence shelter and ultimately the Area Agency on Aging’s DOVES program for older adults. She is now employed and living in transitional housing.

Domestic violence can affect individuals of all ages, races, and incomes – including older adults. In fact, 1 in 10 older adults have experienced some form of elder abuse. To launch October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month, public and private agencies came together during a news conference to bring resources and attention to this serious issue.

“Dignity Denied: Older Adult Abuse” was held at the Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial at the Arizona State Capitol (see attached map.) The event was sponsored by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) in partnership with the Area Agency on Aging, Arizona Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence, Arizona Department of Economic Security, Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council, and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. 

MAG Chair John Giles, mayor of Mesa, said  domestic violence is about power and control – whether physical, emotional, or financial.MAG Chair John Giles, mayor of Mesa, said domestic violence is about power and control – whether physical, emotional, or financial.

“This abuse robs seniors of not only their safety and security but of their dignity, vitality and sometimes even their lives,” said Mayor Giles. “By bringing local governments, law enforcement, the legal community, and service providers to the table, we hope to tap into their expertise with a goal of effective intervention and holding abusers accountable.”

El Mirage Councilmember Anita Norton is chair of the MAG Regional Domestic Violence Council. She expressed gratitude for the level of collaboration that exists. “Having partners with wide-ranging expertise working together means a deeper, unified understanding of the challenges that exist,” she stated. “A coordinated response strengthens our ability to help those who are experiencing domestic violence, in this case, vulnerable older adults.”

Norton noted that the partners recently worked on two important projects, including the Vulnerable Adult Protocol and the Arizona Abuse in Later Life project. The Vulnerable Adult Abuse protocol was updated from a regional to a statewide focus, outlining best practices for law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services providers, and offender intervention providers. The Arizona Abuse in Later Life Program funds projects such as providing training to criminal justice professionals to address elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation; providing cross-training opportunities to professionals working with older victims; and providing services for victims who are 50 years of age or older.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel told participants at the news conference she strongly believes her office has a responsibility to educate the community about how to avoid becoming a victim of crime.

“The number of cases involving vulnerable adults is staggering and, consistent with other forms of domestic violence, is very underreported,” said Adel. “Victims of these crimes are commonly abused by caregivers and those who are entrusted with their health and safety, and if they report their caregivers, their fear is that there will be no one to care for them.”

Adel said her office works diligently to ensure prosecution cases have a likelihood of conviction at trial. She credited MAG’s leadership for enabling the protocol to be strengthened and expanded, noting that the protocol recognizes that no single agency or discipline can fully address the problems of abuse and exploitation.

“Along with other community prevention activities, this new protocol will increase the awareness of crimes in our community committed against vulnerable adults,” noted Adel. “And, it will increase the quality of cases submitted for prosecution, so that we can hold those who victimize this population accountable.”

Marie said she hopes her story encourages other survivors will reach out for help.

“We are not a throwaway to society,” said Marie. “We are smart and vibrant and we want to do things with our lives. We want to contribute.”  Marie will share her story at the news conference in hopes of helping other older adults seek help. “Our dignity is not lost. It just needs to be restored,” she said.

A video of the press event, and additional photos are available on the Domestic Violence Awareness Month page.

*Full name withheld for safety considerations.

Published October 1, 2021

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