Gender-based violence is an issue that can affect anyone, but forms of abuse impacting on older people are often hidden or ignored. We met with the Bristol Older People’s Forum (BOPF) to find out about issues affecting older people in Bristol and why they think it is important to be part of the Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative.
Over the last few years, there has been more awareness about elder abuse and domestic violence against older women as well as making the links between disability and domestic abuse, as many older people are also disabled. However, this is still often hidden, and older people experiencing gender-based violence do not know where to get support as services are not catered towards them and are not advertised to them specifically. It is often only through engagement with other services such as health and supported living that the abuse is even recognised.
Bristol Older People’s Forum is aware of the different types of gender-based violence that their members may experience but are worried that older people are often a forgotten or ignored group. As the Chair, Judith Brown, commented, “we have talked about violence against older people and we tried to get hate crimes against older people, which includes gender-based violence, recognised through the City Council but we just couldn’t seem to get it added on to the list of hate crimes which are recorded by the police… I’m not sure they count (hate crimes) even now, although they do nationally.”
For Judith a change in culture has to start from the beginning of life. “As with all people who experience violence it starts in the home, but some homes aren’t geared up for it to teach children not to be violent, so it’s got to be the schools, and boys and girls should be educated that they don’t hurt each other and other people.” Other trustees agreed and felt that it was important to ensure that others such as Housing Officers and the police also understood issues of elder abuse and violence, then people would be much more willing to report abuse if they realised that they would be taken seriously and felt safe to report. It is a fear of repercussion that often stops older people contacting the police, as one Trustee noted: “That’s a lot of what it is, people are frightened of reporting something because of the possible retaliation.”
There may be different routes that older people can take to raise issues. As one Trustee commented, “we’ve got the Neighbourhood Watch groups and the Police are involved in that, Community Officers, and there you can bring up things like that, if you are having problems with people being abusive, even if it is only verbally to older people. I know that the Police are very strained with their resources but if you bring it up in the neighbourhood watch they can do something.”
BOPF have signed the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge and for Judith, “the reason that I am signing up to this, as an individual, is because women are killed in this country by their partners every week”. For BOPF more broadly, it is important to be part of Bristol Zero Tolerance “because the more people that have signed up to it the more it becomes an everyday thing that you don’t have this gender bias, so that when it does occur it’s more noticeable. It’s outside of the acceptable in society – it helps to make it not acceptable.”
The vision that Bristol Older People’s Forum see for Bristol as a Zero Tolerance City includes people feeling a lot happier and safer, and we look forward to working with them to make this a reality for older people, and others, across Bristol.