Newswise — Do social workers, police and others take domestic violence among older people less seriously than they do among younger couples? A recent survey suggests that they might.
A sample of 242 college students in social work and criminal justice examined three similar scenarios for domestic abuse between couples. In one, the pair was 75 years old. In another they were 30. In the third, the students were asked to imagine themselves as the abused partner at age 75.
One of the findings was that only 26 percent of those who imagined themselves as the abused 75-yearold partner agreed that they would know when to terminate the relationship. By contrast, 44 percent said that the 30-year old person who was being abused should know when to leave.
They also said that 30-year-old couples were more likely to engage in conflict and violence than 75-year-old couples. More respondents believed that the 30-year-old person being abused was entitled to physical defense compared to the same scenario with the couples portrayed at 75-year olds.
“Overall the older characters in the first scenario were perceived either to possess fewer options or to be less entitled to a situation change,” says Dr. Robin Jacobs, a professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine in the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
She and Dr. Michael Kane and Dr. Diane Green, of the School of Social Work at Florida Atlantic University, published an article about the study in January 2011 in the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect.
“Domestic violence and intimate partner abuse among older couples is frequently unrecognized,” observes Nova Southeastern’s Jacobs. “In cases where the suspected abuse of an older person is perpetrated by a spouse or intimate partner, it is rarely labeled as domestic violence.”
“It is an ageist myth for students and professionals to continue to believe that all intimate relationships among older persons are harmonious, respective, loving and supportive,” she adds.
The study authors urge educators to be aware of perception myths about older people among those in training to become social workers and other human services professionals.
“Raising awareness may help students to identify the possibility of intimate partner abuse when the bruises on the 70-year-old face of Aunt Rose are not attributable to being clumsy but are attributable to 72-year-old Uncle Frank,” they write.