Domestic Violence Awareness Month serves as a wake-up call, spotlighting the pervasive and often hidden world of abuse. It’s a time when we stand in solidarity with survivors and their families, amplifying their voices and experiences. A particularly vulnerable group often overlooked in discussions about domestic violence is the senior community. They have unique challenges and vulnerabilities.
Understanding Domestic Violence in the Senior Community
The idea of retirement often paints a picture of tranquility, where the golden years are marked by relaxation, family time, and pursuing long-held passions. It’s an age that many anticipate, expecting it to be without any significant tribulations. Unfortunately, for some seniors this idealized notion is overshadowed by the dark reality of domestic violence.
It’s a common misconception that domestic violence is an issue predominantly faced by younger populations. Unfortunately, older adults are not immune to domestic abuse. According to the Department of Justice, at least 10 percent of those over 65 will experience some sort of domestic violence. The declining physical health, cognitive changes, or even the loss of a partner can make seniors vulnerable targets for abuse.
Within the senior community, the nature of the abuse can be multifaceted:
- Emotional Abuse: This could be in the form of verbal assaults, threats, or constant belittling, which can be profoundly scarring, especially when coming from loved ones or trusted caregivers.
- Financial Abuse: Seniors often have to rely on others to manage their finances. This dependency can be exploited by unscrupulous individuals misusing funds, stealing property, or coercing seniors into making undesired financial decisions.
- Physical Abuse: Physical frailty can make seniors easy targets for physical violence. This could range from slaps and pushes to more grievous bodily harm.
VAWA & HUD Protections
Domestic Violence Awareness Month affords us the opportunity to raise awareness and support survivors of domestic violence in accessing and maintaining safe and affordable housing. As HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge stated, “At HUD, we are committed to ensuring that those who experience sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and human trafficking have immediate access to safe, stable, and affordable housing and do not lose their housing because of the violence.”
At AHEPA Senior Living, we pride ourselves on meeting the Secretary’s commitment by providing safe and dignified affordable housing to older adults that allows them to thrive. The service coordination team is often on the frontline to help residents by connecting them to local domestic violence service providers.
Upon its enactment, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2013 significantly expanded housing protections to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking across HUD’s key programs, including the application of regulations all multifamily assisted housing properties, such as HUD Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly.
Furthermore, as part of VAWA’s most recent reauthorization by Congress in 2022, Congress required HUD to implement and enforce the housing provisions of VAWA consistent with, and in a manner that provides, the same rights and remedies as those provided for in the Fair Housing Act. Therefore, a complaint can be filed with HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) if one’s VAWA’s rights are violated.
Examples of VAWA protections and coverage include non-discrimination, notifications of occupancy rights, and emergency transfers, among others.
It is important to note, however, that HUD and AHEPA Senior Living HUD are not direct service providers and do not provide individual counseling, crisis response, or legal services to individuals who have experienced domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and/or human trafficking.
It Takes a Community
In a world where instances of domestic violence occur with heartbreaking frequency, the existence of nonprofit organizations like Penelope House provide the lifesaving services survivors and their families require. Known for its relentless dedication, Penelope House has established itself as a sanctuary for domestic violence survivors and their children, offering them the chance to rebuild, recover, and rediscover their inner strength.
That’s why, through our Giving Back program, we are proud to support Penelope House and other domestic violence centers, such as Health Imperatives – Penelope’s Place — with grant funding to help them meet their missions. Their work, although rooted in providing physical safety, extends far beyond that—it’s a holistic approach to healing, encompassing emotional support, psychological recovery, and empowerment.
Our hope is that by supporting organizations such as Penelope House and Penelope’s Place that we can help champion change through a ripple effect that is both widespread and lasting. Together, we not only seek to provide immediate relief and support to survivors but also work toward proactive solutions, community awareness, and preventive measures.
We are also proud to have members of our leadership team actively serving on boards of nonprofits that are providing aid and services to domestic violence survivors.
AHEPA Senior Living Vice President of Human Resources and Training Carol Whiteman serves as the Vice Chair of the Board of Beacon of Hope Crisis Center in Indianapolis.
“Awareness is the first step to action in domestic violence. We can all have some piece of being an agent for change,” says Whiteman.
Empowerment and Education
Domestic Violence Awareness Month isn’t just about acknowledging the problem; it’s about sparking change. Education is of the utmost importance. We must shed light on the less discussed facets of domestic violence, such as its impact on seniors, to foster understanding and empathy. Equipped with knowledge, communities can become the first line of defense, identifying signs of abuse and offering support.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month reminds us of the collective duty we have to protect, uplift, and champion the cause of society’s most vulnerable, regardless of demographics or circumstance. At AHEPA Senior Living, our hope is to inspire unwavering dedication to seniors and support for nonprofit institutions like Penelope House, Penelope’s Place and Beacon of Hope Crisis Center by living as an example for others to follow.
As we navigate through this month, let’s not just be passive observers. After all, in unity there’s strength. And together, we can usher in a world where safety and dignity aren’t the exception but the norm.
If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence, please seek help – call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).