Domestic violence does exist in the older adult populations

October is Domestic Violence Month and across the country, communities will mount campaigns to make the public aware of this social issue. Howard County is no exception.

The center is offering a session on "Recognizing and preventing violence in relationships," Thursday, Oct. 25, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, at the Bain Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way, in Columbia.

According to a press release from the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, "Domestic violence is a pattern of damaging and intimidating behaviors including physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, and/or sexual assaults that individuals use against their intimate partners. Victims can be of any age, culture, education, employment, marital status, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Although both men and women can be abused, most victims are women."

My main focus in this column is to bring attention to domestic violence as it relates to older adults.

In talking to Vanita Leatherwood, Director of Community Engagement at the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, she said, "Many people disregard the fact that older adults have intimate partner relationships. And unfortunately just like younger victims, older adults may be subject to a pattern of abusive behavior in their relationships too. The DVC offers awareness programs for everyone. Violence prevention is a community effort. So our programs range from trainings for professionals to workshops on dating violence for teens."

Vanita said that domestic abuse happens to adults who are vibrant, both physically and mentally as well as adults who are vulnerable and lack the physical and/or mental ability to care for themselves.

There are a number of forms of domestic abuse in later life. Physical abuse could be kicking, pushing, beating, slapping, spitting, choking, punching, burning and restraining. Sexual abuse involves degrading treatment and forcing the victim to perform unwanted sexual activities.

Emotional abuse consists of making humiliating remarks, name calling, mocking, yelling, swearing, blaming, interrupting, threatening, harming pets, destroying personal property, withholding affection, not respecting the victim's feelings, rights and opinions.

Financial abuse is stealing money or property, using money as a way to maintain control. The last type is neglect, withholding or failing to provide basic needs like food, water, proper shelter, and/or medical treatment.

Vanita made me aware of signs to look for in a possible domestic violence situation. She said that you should watch out for repeated "accidental injuries," injuries that don't match the individual's account. For example, the individual says she walked into a door, but the injuries are not consistent with that kind of 'accident.

The victim might make statements about being afraid; make chronic vague complaints; show signs of depression; have little or no social contact outside of the relationship; make references to spouse's anger; have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide.

Here are some questions you could ask if you suspect domestic violence. Has anyone made you feel afraid or threatened? How are things going with you? Are you getting to see your friends?

Many older married women suffer domestic abuse in silence because they are afraid of change, divorce and losing their home. They have a diminished sense of self and are afraid to speak up about their situation. That is why this may be the most under-reported crime and very little study has been done on it. Women need to learn that it is okay to speak up about domestic violence.

A fact sheet on the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website, http://www.ncadv.org, offers the following statistics: One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Eighty-five percent of domestic violence victims are women. Historically, females have been most often victimized by someone they knew. Females who are 20-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence. Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.

The DVC is a private nonprofit agency that provides comprehensive services to women, men and children impacted by intimate partner violence and sexual assault in Howard County. The center provides victims of domestic violence with safe shelter and transitional housing; counseling for survivors (women, men and children) of domestic violence and sexual assault; legal assistance; an abuser intervention program; a pet safe program; and prevention education and awareness programs.

The free awareness programs for adults include: "Recognizing and Preventing Sexual Violence;" "When Someone You Know Hurts You: Recognizing Intimate Partner Violence;" "Living with Violence: Effects on Children/Teens;" "Recognizing Love: Spotting, Wanting and Maintaining Healthy Relationships;" and "Domestic Violence: A Program for the Workplace."

The center's 24-hour helplines are 410-997-2272 or 1-800-752-0191. The 24-hour sexual assault helpline is 410-997-3292. The DVC is located at 5457 Twin Knolls Road, Suite 310, Columbia, MD 21045. For information, call 410- 997-0304 or go to http://www.dvccenter.org. Keep up to date with the DVC on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/DVCofHC and Twitter, http://twitter.com/DVCofHC.

If anyone is looking for a book to read on this subject matter, Karen Simon's book, "Inside the Circle: One Woman's Search for the Cause of the Violence that Tore Apart a Family and Destroyed a Marriage," released in May, sounds very interesting. There is no need for a description, the title tells it all.

Before I close …

Make sure you mark your calendars for the Howard County Department of Citizen Services, Office on Aging's 50-Plus Expo, Friday, Oct. 19, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, in Columbia. You don't want to miss this event, with over 150 exhibitors, healthy aging seminars, life-enriching workshops, a health fair, flu and pneumonia vaccines, ideas and demonstrations for living green plus all day entertainment and food in the 50+ Café. Call 410-212-6410 for general information or go to http://www.howardcountyaging.org/50plusexpo.

Also, don't forget that October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Wear pink on a specific day each week; or wear the iconic pink ribbon every day to draw attention to breast cancer and to remind others of those lost to breast cancer and those who have survived. Remind your circle of women friends to take the appropriate steps for early detection of breast cancer.