The Course of Domestic Abuse Among Chicago’s Elderly

The growing body of elder abuse research reflects the increasing attention paid to this serious problem and emphasizes the need for effective prevention and intervention strategies. While past research has examined risk factors and protective behaviors associated with abuse, studies have generally not examined either the course of abuse over time or the effectiveness of different intervention strategies.

Despite the fact that the police have increasingly become involved in matters of domestic abuse against the elderly, the impact of their involvement has not been assessed. This study examines if and how risk factors and protective behaviors affect the course of abuse over time and the role of the police in intervening with elderly victims of domestic abuse and/or neglect. We also examine the prevalence rates for various types of abuse using a stratified sample of Chicago’s elderly population.

Our sample consisted of 1,795 elderly residents for whom we could identify victimization status. In-depth interviews were conducted with 328 elderly residents from three sample groups: (1) community non-victims (n = 159); (2) community victims (n = 121); and (3) a police sample consisting of elderly victims who had been visited by trained domestic violence/senior citizen victimization officers in the Chicago Police Department (n = 48). Participants in the three groups were current residents of Chicago, aged 60 and over. We conducted phone interviews using a survey instrument designed to assess victimization. The survey included questions about various characteristics and risk factors associated both with victims and perpetrators of abuse and/or neglect, specific types of abuse, and protective behaviors of victims. Victimization was examined twice over a ten-month period to evaluate the course of abuse over time. The efficacy of police intervention was also examined. Prevalence rates for our sample were similar to those found in other studies of elder abuse.

In examining the course of abuse, we found that victims from the police sample were more likely to have at least one incident of subsequent abuse than were those from the community sample. However, for those in the police sample, the number of forms of abuse that occurred repeatedly (> 10 times) went down. In addition, those in the police sample were more likely to have engaged in protective behaviors or service seeking than those in the community sample. These findings suggest that intervention by officers trained to deal with the elderly and/or domestic abuse victims can lead to increased engagement in protective behaviors and ultimately reductions in the number of frequently occurring forms of abuse. Implications for the law enforcement community’s response to elder abuse victimization as well as limitations of the study are discussed.

The Course of Domestic Abuse Among Chicago’s Elderly: Risk Factors, Protective Behaviors, and Police Intervention