Identifying elder abuse, and countering it
Participants at the Pilgrim Senior Center had an opportunity Wednesday to learn about elder abuse and domestic violence, as the center hosted a presentation by Deb Ferrante, a counselor at the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center (EBC).
Ferrante defined abuse has having power and control over someone and said it can take place in any environment.
“The power and control dynamic is always there in an abusive relationship,” she said. “If people are fighting one-on-one, that’s not abuse because no one has power and control over the other.”
Ferrante listed the different types of abuse one may experience, which include verbal, emotional, financial, and the most obvious, physical.
“Verbal abuse is usually how abusive relationships start because you’re brought into the relationship and treated badly without really knowing it,” she said. “The abusive behavior is often excused, but as soon as you tolerate it, it escalates into something else.”
Ferrante said when dealing with domestic abuse, it often occurs between family members, and in the case of elder abuse, she said it’s usually adult children abusing their parents.
“It’s constant and progressive,” she said.
Ferrante said one of the common ways children may abuse their parents is using financial abuse.
“The son or daughter may take their parent’s social security check and deposit it in their own account,” she said. “They arrange to take care of their parents, but they’re really taking care of themselves.”
Using another example, Ferrante said a person may have money saved up for when it’s time to transition to assisted living and may find out when that time comes, there’s no longer any money available to afford it because it was taken by the abuser.
When Ferrante asked the audience how it would feel to be a victim of financial abuse, one attendee said, “It makes you feel powerless and it hurts.”
Ferrante said it’s a way of keeping the abused party from leaving the relationship because if they were to leave, they would have no resources.
Moving on to physical abuse, Ferrante said 50 percent of the time that people seek help from the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center is due to physical abuse.
“That’s also when law enforcement gets involved,” she said.
Ferrante said many women that come to EBC say, “if he hits me, I’ll leave,” but still put up with other forms of abuse, such as verbal or financial. Referring to those other forms of abuse, Ferrante said, “these bruises don’t go away without help.”
Ferrante said there’s a dangerous perception in society when it comes to abusive relationships.
“I’m a counselor at the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center and when people who aren’t part of an abusive relationship hear what I do, the first question they ask me is, ‘Why don’t they just leave?’” she said. “People in these relationships feel they don’t have a voice, and over time they become entrenched in these relationships and can’t help themselves. The relationship is so damaged and toxic, that often people are afraid to leave.”
Ferrante said there’s a multitude of reasons why people may stay in an abusive relationship, which include fear; consequences of what could happen if they leave; financial concerns if they’re left without resources; religion; feelings of shame and guilt; pride; grief; responsibility, especially if children or grandchildren are involved in the situation; and love, especially in a situation where children our abusing their parents.
“We hear that a lot,” Ferrante said, referring to love as a reason many people remain in abusive relationships. “When I hear that, I ask them if they love the person that the abuser is now, or are they remembering what the person was like before the abuse started.”
Although there are many reasons why people remain in abusive relationships, Ferrante said the biggest reason and the one she hears most often is hope.
“Parents hope their child will be different, or will get help if they need it,” she said. “Often times there are alcohol, addiction or mental health issues associated with the abusers. We don’t know what has happened to that person or what they may be going through, but it’s sad that they became that way.”
Ferrante said because there’s no way to know what someone is going through, you should never judge anyone, and instead just listen to them. She said many times, family or friends of someone in an abusive relationship will threaten to stop talking to them if they don’t leave the relationship, adding this is not the right approach.
“Tough love is not the way to handle this,” she said. “Often, people give ultimatums because they’re frustrated and say they won’t talk to the person unless they leave the relationship. But you have to leave that door open because if you don’t and the person is eventually ready to leave, they will have nowhere to go.”
While the majority of EBC’s clients are women, Ferrante said men can also be victims of abuse but they are more reluctant to come forward and talk about it.
Ferrante said there are a number of warning signs to look for if you suspect someone may be in an abusive relationship, which include a change in the way they dress, if women stop wearing makeup, and changes in demeanor or personality.
Ferrante said EBC offers the following services to those who need help: individual counseling, support groups, a safe shelter, and programs for seniors, all of which are free of charge.
“Our goal is to keep the person safe while in that [abusive] environment,” she said. “We feel it’s important not to charge for these services because many can’t afford it, or they can’t afford the co-pay if their insurance covers it, but even if they can afford it; they don’t want the abuser to see it on the bill.”
Ferrante said confidentiality is also very important.
“We have a parking lot in back of our building so one can see you parked on the street,” she said. “There’s also no building sign, in case someone was driving by and recognized a vehicle parked in front of a building offering domestic violence assistance.”
Ferrante said making the decision to seek help and contact an agency such as EBC is a huge first step toward getting out of an abusive relationship and it takes a lot to endure something like that.
“The women that survive these relationships are some of the strongest women you’ll ever meet,” she said.