Today (March 8th) is International Women's Day, which celebrates the achievements of women and the significant challenges they still face all over the world.
But one group often overlooked in this narrative are older women, who are often particularly at risk of abuse, both from strangers and those that are supposed to care for them. When women reach retirement age they seem to drop off the radar of service providers, researchers and academics. So today we should take a moment to acknowledge their particular circumstances and challenges.
Reliance on others = increased risk
This is in part because the problems that accompany old age - such as dementia or physical infirmity - mean that it is much more difficult to live independently, and so more support is inevitably required from others. And unfortunately, this reliance introduces a greater element of risk. Having someone take your debit card to do your shopping can be a risky strategy and brings with it the potential of theft or fraud. Needing someone to help with personal care can put you at risk of neglect. And of course, simply being physically weaker and potentially more isolated can mean that some people feel they can exploit or hurt you with impunity.
Assets = increased risk
Assets and potential access to money - and the illusion that older people have money - can also mean older women are at increased risk of being abused, especially when there may be a lack of capacity or emotional vulnerability caused by issues such as bereavement.
For example, conditions such as dementia can make women in this age group less likely to spot a scam or make sound financial decisions. Women living alone may feel less able to defend themselves against a pushy rogue trader. Reduced capacity can also mean that family members or friends are drafted in to help manage financial affairs by taking on power of attorney, meaning the potential for financial abuse is greatly increased.
And the problem of domestic abuse doesn't go away
Lastly, it's a common misconception that domestic abuse is just a young woman's issue. Actually, older women are more like to be abused by a spouse or other romantic partner. The Safe Later Lives: Older People and Domestic Abuse: 2016 Spotlights Report suggests that victims aged 61+ are much more likely to experience abuse from a current intimate partner than those 60 and under, with 40% of older abuse victims saying that they had experienced abuse of this nature compared to 28% of younger people.
There are various reasons for this. The abuse could be something that has gone on for a long time or as a result of meeting a new partner later in life. Sometimes, old age itself can act as a catalyst for abuse to begin.
And unfortunately, because there a tendency for service providers to see older people as a homogenised 'elderly' mass and not consider gender differences, it's an issue that often goes under the radar. Consequently, an older woman who is covered in bruises may have these issues discounted as a result of 'falls' rather than abuse.
Of course this leads to a self-perpetuating cycle whereby older women who are being abused by a partner are not referred to domestic abuse services, which in turn helps foster the idea that older women aren't routinely abused by their partners. They are, and their need for help is just as great as their younger peers.
What you can do
An estimated 413,500 people aged 65 or over in England and Wales experience some form of abuse each year - ranging from neglect and fraud to physical and sexual assaults - yet in 2015/16 the number of successful criminal convictions (3,012) represents just 0.7% of total prevalence. This means that 99% of those who commit crimes against older people go unpunished.
This has to stop. That's why we are campaigning for offenses against older people to be made aggravated crimes. You can sign and share our petition here.
And if you are a victim of elder abuse, or know someone you suspect may be being abused, you can call our free, confidential helpline on 0808 8088 141 (Monday-Friday, 9am - 5pm). Read more about Action on Elder Abuse here.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org