Intimate Partner Violence among Midlife and Older Women: A Descriptive Analysis of Women Seeking Medical Services

By Sormanti, Mary; Shibusawa, Tazuko | Health and Social Work, February 2008 | Go to article overview

Intimate Partner Violence among Midlife and Older Women: A Descriptive Analysis of Women Seeking Medical Services


Sormanti, Mary, Shibusawa, Tazuko, Health and Social Work


Today in the United States women benefit greatly from the many hard-won rights and achievements of their mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers of the 20th century. Actions and aspirations that were once inconceivable for women are now taken for granted because of the great strides in equal rights and social justice made by our predecessors. And yet in stark contrast to these successes, staggering numbers of women contend with discrimination and abuse that not only impedes their ability to lay claim to the outcomes of these political and social advances, but also imperils their very physical and mental well-being. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is perhaps the most insidious of these trangressions, with conservative estimates suggesting that more than 1.3 million women in the United States are victims each year (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). This article examines the prevalence and associated factors of IPV among midlife and older women (ages 50 to 64), a cohort whose experiences of victimization and survivorship have been marginalized by most researchers and health care professionals to date.

IPV PERPETRATED AGAINST MIDLIFE AND OLDER WOMEN

The National Crime Victimization Survey revealed that although the highest rates of nonlethal violence, including both sexual and physical assaults, were committed against younger women, the relatively smaller percentage of victimized women over age 55 (2 percent) translates to about 118,000 women between 1993 and 2000 (Rennison & Rand, 2003). These compelling and clinically significant numbers may be an underreporting of the actual number of incidents (Rennison & Rand, 2003). Other investigators concluded that postmenopausal women are exposed to IPV at rates similar to those of younger women (Mouton et al., 2004).

Despite similarities in their risk profiles, midlife and older abused women are likely to experience problems and needs that are distinct from those of their younger counterparts (Straka & Montminy, 2006). For example, midlife and older women may be especially vulnerable to IPV as a result of traditional cultural scripts about gender roles in the home (Wolkenstein & Sterman, 1998) or discusson of "private" family issues and conflicts with people outside the family (Hightower, Smith, Ward-Hall, & Hightower, 1999). However, few studies have attempted to develop a profile of either the typical older abuse victim or perpetrator, and these studies have been based on majority samples (Penhale, 1999),resulting in even more limited knowledge about the experiences of abused older women from diverse cultural groups. Consequently, although IPV occurs throughout the life course (Schaffer, 1999), midlife and older abused women have been largely unrecognized, and the characteristics and circumstances of their experiences with violent partners remain underexplored (Zink, Regan, Jacobson, & Pabst, 2003).

IPV AND HIV

For numerous reasons, abused women are at increased risk of contracting HIV. Multiple studies provide evidence that IPV and fear of IPV are intricately connected with a range of sexual HIV risk factors, including unprotected sex. For example, women in physically abusive relationships may be especially vulnerable to rape by their partners (Bergen, 1999). According to the American Medical Association, the prevalence of rape among battered women is at least 40 percent in some violent relationships and may occur as frequently as several times per month (Fischbach & Herbert, 1997). Like younger women, older women are also victims of marital rape (Peacock, 1998).

Risk reduction may be especially difficult for women who grew up before the AIDS epidemic because of lack of exposure to comprehensive and accurate knowledge about the disease (Zablotsky, 1998). Midlife and older women may be more likely to adhere to traditional gender roles, which may make it especially challenging for them to talk about sex or their own sexual needs (Ross & Williams, 2001), and they may not have the skills to negotiate safe sex with their intimate partners (Ory & Mack, 1998). …

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