How to support older women experiencing domestic violence focus of new Canadian study

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The Mass Casualty Commission heard from a variety of groups discussing gender-based and intimate partner violence on Wednesday. The inquiry was told a broad cultural shift is needed, but so too is more funding to keep non-profits sustainable. Callum Smith reports – Aug 31, 2022

In Canada, 44 per cent of women who have ever been in an intimate partner relationship have reported experiencing some form of intimate partner violence.

That’s according to a Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics report released in 2021.

While research has consistently shown that younger people are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, a Dalhousie University professor wants to ensure there’s a demographic that’s not forgotten: women in mid-life and older.

“We want to make sure that people realize that there’s no age — there’s no age that this ends and this certainly can continue into later life,” said Dr. Lori Weeks.

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Weeks, a gerontologist and professor at Dalhousie’s School of Nursing in Halifax, is co-leading a project to address the lack of support. The goal is to adapt and create interventions specifically for older women who are are experiencing intimate partner violence.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this research with women in mid-life and older is to really highlight people of all ages experience intimate partner violence,” she said.

“I think that historically a lot of our focus and services have been directed more at younger women.”

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The team has received close to $600,000 in federal funding to recruit and train researchers in the three Maritime provinces to help deliver the program. Data will be collected over nine months to see how well the program works.

The services will be offered virtually, which means they can reach clients in rural areas more easily. Interventions could include education about abusive relationships and developing safety plans.

“The researcher will check in with the participants once a week for about 20 minutes on average, just a check in to give and provide social support,” she said.

As for how the program differs from those aimed at younger women, Weeks said older clients may have different needs.

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Nova Scotia domestic violence services in high demand

Emergency shelters, for example, may need to be age-appropriate in terms of privacy and physical accessibility.

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For some older clients, just moving to a separate location can be difficult.

“Often, our response when people are experiencing abuse is to get that person out of that situation and moved into a separate location, essentially for safety reasons. And that’s that can be very, very important,” explained Weeks.

“But what some older women told us is that they have longstanding ties and connection to their home, to their community, to their environment. In some cases, rural women talked about … they’re not going to leave their land, they’re not going to leave their animals, for example.”

As well, Weeks acknowledged that older women may have different considerations or values when it comes to recognizing violence and seeking help.

“For a lot for older women … given when they were born and when they were raised and the values, even religious influences, sometimes can make a difference in the decisions they make when faced with an abusive situation,” she said.

“There’s still a lot of hidden abuse out there, but I do think that younger people probably are just possibly more open, recognizing abuse and perhaps more willing to seek supports compared to older women who might be more hesitant for a wide variety of reasons.”

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All this proves to be an important topic, Weeks said, because of our region’s aging population. She pointed out it’s essential that social programs are meeting the needs of all demographics, including programs that address domestic violence.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has funded a three-year study, so researchers hope to have their project implemented in 2025. The project is in partnership with researchers at the University of New Brunswick, Université de Moncton, and University of Prince Edward Island.

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