‘Some women experiencing abuse will also be at the end of their life’

Padraig O’Morain: Abuse has no age limits

“Some women experiencing abuse will also be at the end of their life. This may provide opportunities for perpetrators to further the abuse and also make it harder to identify abuse.”

These, I think, are two of the saddest sentences I have read in a long time.

They appear in a report on domestic violence perpetrated on older women compiled by Dr Hannah Bows, associate professor in criminal law at the Durham Law School.

The report concerns women in the UK, but I have no doubt that its findings could as easily apply to women in Ireland. And it could also apply to male victims of domestic violence – Men's Aid Ireland had about 8,000 contacts from men last year.


We don’t often think of older people as targets of violence from their own families. We may think that the violent partner has dropped the behaviour, maybe under the influence of adult children. Yet Dr Bows notes that in the UK about one in six adults aged 60 or over experiences some violence or abuse every year. Women, mainly, are the victims and men mainly the perpetrators.

Again, these are UK figures but anyone who reads the news would not be surprised if the proportion was the same in Ireland.

And it’s not all about husbands and wives. Almost half the women in her research were subject to domestic abuse by adult children or grandchildren.

That’s not news. It’s been a long, long time since I first heard Women’s Aid in Ireland mentioning violence towards mothers by adult children.

What don’t women (or men) just up and leave? Well, where exactly are you supposed to go? That’s one block. Another can be not knowing one’s entitlements or not knowing what one’s legal rights might be. Dr Bows reports that information on these issues and on support services has helped many women to leave.

Why don’t they go to court and get a barring order, kick him out of the home? But could the abused person be opening herself up to more violence? Could she be rejected by the extended family? Could she be reluctant to make the abuser homeless? This also stops abused women from taking action, according to Dr Bows.

Peer support from other older women who have experienced domestic violence is particularly helpful, she writes. Support given by phone is also helpful. Women’s Aid and more localised organisations would be a first port of call. Men’s Aid Ireland would be a source of information and support for males who experience domestic violence.

A particularly sad finding was that women with disabilities or chronic health conditions are more than twice as likely to be abused by a partner. Others at a higher risk of violence, according to the research, are unemployed or low-income women, women from different ethnic groups than their partners and bisexual women.

I began by quoting Dr Bows’ remark that some women experience abuse up to the end of their lives. Of course, when you think of it, an old person who has been abused for many years will continue to be abused. She suggests that organisations supporting abused people could work with hospice services so that they can identify and work with these victims of violence.

In addition, we need more refuges and supported accommodation. In the times we’re going through now that may sound like a tall order. But the timing will never be right so this time will have to do.

Ashling Murphy’s murder unleashed a wave of determination to do something about violence against women.

Helping the women I’ve mentioned in this article – and abused men – to lift the darkness of domestic abuse from their lives should be part of that wave of action. And it has to be a permanent part; this will not go away.

Women's Aid, 1800 341 900 Men's Aid, (01) 554 3811

- Padraig O’Morain (Instagram,Twitter: @padraigomorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His books include Kindfulness – a guide to self compassion. His daily mindfulness reminder is available free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com).