Violent crime against older people is at record levels — here’s why

Bows , The Conversation, June 15, 2018

statistics have traditionally suggested that people aged 60 or over are less
likely to be the victims of violent crime than the rest of the population.

But while
victimisation surveys
consistently report lower levels of
victimisation among those aged 60 and over, these figures don’t necessarily
capture the full picture.
This is
in part because most victimisation surveys exclude certain groups in society
from participating – including those living in “institutions” such as care
homes and hospitals. And in some cases, there have been age caps in
these surveys
The rate
of victimisation of older people may be lower than other age groups, but it is
certainly not rare. A recent global systematic
estimated that at least one in six older people experience
some form of physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse each year.
In the
UK, this equates to around 2m people every year. To put this into context, this
is higher than the UK current
estimates of domestic violence
– which stand at 1.9m people a year.
Not much
is known about the dynamics of violence in later life. Most of the existing
research examines a fairly narrow range of violence and abuse – and often
excludes sexual violence and violence that leads to a fatality. But my research
has shown that these types of violent assaults do occur in later life and
gender is a significant feature.
My national
study examining reported sexual offences
against people aged 60 and
over in the UK found that women constituted the majority of victims and men
were the primary perpetrators. And even where the victim was male, the
perpetrator was also male in most cases. Where the perpetrator was female,
there were male co-perpetrators in the majority of cases.
people get raped too. Shutterstock

research also showed that female victims tended to know the perpetrator –
either as an acquaintance or partner, whereas most male victims were raped or
sexually assaulted by an acquaintance or a stranger.

gender differences are also seen in a more recent study I carried out, which
examines homicide of people over the age of 60. Analysing 514 homicides
involving a victim aged 60 and over between 2010 and 2015, revealed that men
were most likely to be murdered by a male stranger whereas women were most
likely to be killed by a male spouse or partner.
research reflects national
on younger victims, which show that men are generally
victimised by other men – often strangers or acquaintances – whereas women tend
to be victimised by male partners or other family members.
despite these findings, violence and abuse of older people is being missed by
police forces, health professionals and other key agencies because of ageist
assumptions about older people being at low risk for violence. All of which
results in missed opportunities to identify and prevent violence against older
people. As part of my work I spoke to the manager of a Rape Crisis Centre, who
told me:
We worry
that there is no attention around the occurrence of adult grooming and the
predatory behaviour aimed at older women, particularly in the online world … We
have seen a rise in older women accessing services that we consider linked to
the higher prevalence of older women using dating and companion sites.
This lack
of awareness and acceptance of violence and abuse in later life has also been
flagged up in domestic
homicide reviews
involving older victims.
I have written
about some of the problems the one-size-fits-all “elder
abuse” model creates. It distinguishes violence against older people from
violence against other groups – and suggests the problem is one associated with
the age of the victim. And this leads to different policy and practice
responses. But, as the evidence has shown, violence against older people isn’t
a problem caused by age.
violence should be looked at across all age groups. This would allow
researchers to examine both age and gender, as well as class, ethnicity and
other social characteristics – to get a better understanding of the links
between the types of violence people experience at different life stages.
All of
which is important, because these figures are likely to increase as the
population, in the West at least, continues to age at a rapid pace. In fact, in
recognition of the global epidemic, the United Nations has designated 15 June
as World Elder Abuse Awareness day
in an effort to raise awareness of violence and abuse of older people.