I just came back from the Abuse of Elders and Adults with Disabilities Conference. Did you know the first federal law focused on preventing elder abuse passed just last year? Surprised this didn’t already exist? I was.

As our guest blogger, Phil Jordan, pointed out, our focus on violence by an “intimate partner” generally leaves out elders and people with disabilities being abused by a family member or caregiver. But these trusted relationships
are certainly intimate in their own way: someone has access to your body, your home, your money. And with that comes control and the possibility of abuse.

Folks 80+ are the fastest growing segment of our total population. Ask anyone who has reached that “certain age” and they will tell you about an experience of feeling invisible and less credible. We’re all headed there. Whether you will be able to live in your own home, a facility, or become homeless, we are all going to keep aging. And this makes us vulnerable to be trapped in an abusive relationship.

You might manage to have great relationships through your whole life. But when you get older, you’ll be entering into different kinds of intimate relationships and you may have a lot less choice about who those people are. If they start controlling you, where will you turn?

We are pleased to bring you this post from guest blogger Phil Jordan, Elder Abuse Project Coordinator at the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

Last year, my friend Rob, local actor extraordinaire, played the part of Lightning Lad, sidekick to superhero Electron Boy. It was part of a heartwarming story orchestrated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to grant Erik Martin, a terminally ill 13-year-old, his heart’s desire.

I have to credit Erik and Rob with helping me understand my mixed feelings about the Make-A-Wish phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the kids’ eyes light up when their wish comes true and I honor the people who donate their time and effort to make it happen.

But I also feel a little bit grumpy about the whole thing. For the past 12 years, I have worked to connect domestic violence and sexual assault  advocates to people with disabilities and elders. So many people in this population are abused and no amount of wishing puts a stop to it. The advocates want to be helpful, but they sometimes resist altering how they work, and that can make it impossible for the people I work with to use their services.

For example, advocates often rely on the term “intimate partner violence.” Many elders and people with disabilities are abused by other family members or caregivers. The relationship may be “intimate,” but not in the way the advocates mean.

Also, people with dementia, mental illness, intellectual disabilities, or brain injuries need advocates to find new ways to help them explore options, plan for safety, and overcome the abuser’s power and control.

My wish is that elders and people with disabilities no longer experience abuse. But there is no organization that has the wherewithal to grant my wish, and I remain grumpy about that.

But I know that domestic violence and sexual assault programs are the best place to find services aimed directly at eliminating the power and control that abusers exert. That is true for women battered by their intimate partner, and it is true for elders and people with disabilities abused by people they trust. I am grateful for the advocates’ work and wish that all people being abused could benefit from it. And maybe they can grant me my other wish―to be less grumpy.

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