Older people

Cautionary note: some people may find reading these victim experiences distressing or traumatising.

These de-identified victim experiences summarise the content of interviews undertaken with people who have experienced domestic and family violence and legal system engagement. The interviewees’ names and some minor details of their narratives have been changed to protect their identities. In many cases the names have been selected by the interviewees.

The key words align with the contents covered in the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book.

  • Barbara was a 65 year old woman referred to the Seniors Legal and Support Service by a community health service following concerns that she was being physically, sexually, financially and psychologically abused by her husband of six years, Stan.

    It was initially difficult to speak to Barbara as her husband was controlling and would not allow her to have contact with people he did not know. Barbara had reported to her community health service worker that her husband abused her by:

    • Shouting, swearing and name calling.
    • Rarely leaving her alone so that she was unable to have contact with anyone without his knowledge or presence. Barbara’s only outing and contact with friends was through Church as she was permitted to attend the Sunday service.
    • Intentionally tripping her on a number of occasions while knowing that she had multiple health problems and was physically frail.
    • Sexually abusing her on a regular basis and refusing to take “no” for an answer.
    • Terrifying her to the point that she feared taking any action in case he retaliated with abuse.

    In addition, Barbara was financially dependent on her husband and he controlled all their finances. She was unable to receive social security benefits because of her husband’s income and assets. Barbara owned the house she and her husband were living in and she was fearful that he would “trash the house” if she left him.

    Barbara informed the Seniors Legal and Support Service that her husband became abusive soon after they married. His son was also disrespectful towards Barbara and she was anxious that he would move in with them. Barbara had no contact with her own daughter from a previous relationship although she did have a close relationship with her sister who lived in Adelaide. Her sister contacted her by phone daily but was unable to provide practical assistance due to distance. Her sister was also afraid of Stan.

    Barbara had become socially isolated during her marriage to Stan and had lost contact with many friends and family at his insistence. She had several serious medical conditions and had been advised that her prognosis is poor and she should not expect to live long.

    Barbara instructed the Seniors Legal and Support Service that she would like her husband out of her life so that she could “live in peace” for the remainder of her life.

    The solicitor and social worker made initial contact by phone when Stan was at work. Barbara was provided with immediate advice on her options for a DVO and an ouster condition. Barbara was reluctant to act on this fearing that her husband’s abuse and violence would escalate if he discovered she had sought legal advice. Domestic violence counselling and support was provided to Barbara in partnership with community services to help her make clear decisions about her safety and future. Safety plans put in place while Barbara continued to live with her husband.

    The Seniors Legal and Support Service solicitor helped Barbara to draft a DVO application with ouster condition when Barbara decided she would separate from her husband. Care was taken to ensure her safety during this process - Barbara was only seen in a safe place, and phone calls were only made to her mobile at times when it was safe to ring. The Seniors Legal and Support Service solicitor provided legal representation for her DVO application.

    The solicitor also provided advice regarding Stan and Barbara’s Binding Financial Agreement and liaised with Barbara’s community health service worker to assist with an application to Centrelink for income support.

    Later, the solicitor also assisted with a divorce application while the social worker continued to provide emotional support and counselling as Barbara coped with the trauma of living with an abusive spouse and then made adjustments to living on her own. A psychology service referral was given but Barbara’s frailty and unwillingness to trust “officials” meant she did not take this up.

    With assistance over 15 months, Barbara was able to remove her husband from her home and live without violence, fear and anxiety. Barbara also wanted closure by ending the marriage and all efforts were made by the Seniors Legal and Support Service to expedite a divorce application, however, Barbara passed away prior to the hearing.

  • Brenda is a 70 year old woman who was referred to a Seniors Legal and Support Service, a State Government-funded service to respond to elder abuse.

    Brenda lived with her husband Kevin in a caravan on her daughter’s property. Kevin was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive towards Brenda. The police and a domestic violence prevention service helped Brenda to apply for a domestic violence prevention order after Kevin pushed and hit her on several occasions.

    Brenda stated that the verbal and emotional abuse had continued after the protection order was made and that he also pushed her from time to time. She could no longer tolerate her husband’s behaviour towards her and wished to separate from him.

    Brenda’s daughter and son-in-law decided they no longer wanted Brenda and Kevin living on their property and became “nasty” towards Brenda. They also blocked Brenda’s access to the laundry located in their house.

    Kevin told Brenda he intended to travel around Australia for six months in the caravan but Brenda didn’t want to leave Brisbane and asked the Seniors Legal and Support Service to help her relocate safely.

    She also asked for advice about financial abuse and exploitation from another daughter, Kim. Brenda had lent Kim $105,000 two years previously to help her to purchase her own home. Kim had since sold the house, initially refused to discharge the loan, and then later offered to repay Brenda $150 per week which she said Brenda could access using her ATM card. Brenda was worried that there was no written agreement and a risk that her daughter would not make regular payments or cease repayments before the full amount was repaid.

    Brenda had suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following a home invasion when she was confronted by an intruder. As a result, she feared living alone, being unsupported or socially isolated. She acknowledged that her relationships with her daughters and son-in-law were tense and her relationships with her siblings were also poor.

    The Seniors Legal and Support Service lawyer and social worker arranged for a meeting room at the local community centre and community transport so that Brenda could meet them there for a confidential discussion.

    Safety plans were discussed with Brenda, including ways the legal service could contact her that would not jeopardise her safety.

    The solicitor explained to Brenda that she should call the police if her husband continued to abuse her and clarified that she was required to report any breaches so that orders could be enforced to give her protection.

    Brenda considered advice about putting in place a written repayment agreement with Kim but was reluctant to take that step, fearing she would lose her relationship with Kim and that Kim would retaliate by stopping all repayments. Brenda understood that the informal arrangement meant she still risked irregular or possible cessation of payments.

    The social worker worked through future housing options with Brenda, taking into account her need for social contact and the financial constraints as a single pensioner once separated from Kevin. The service helped her investigate retirement village, private rental, over-50s private rentals and social housing rental options. Brenda was anxious about her financial survival as an ageing, single renter. The service advocated to the social/public housing authorities to take into account her vulnerabilities.

    As a result of a range of supports and legal advice, Brenda was able to obtain a protection order; she learnt more about how the domestic violence legislation applied to her situation and understood her options in dealing with breaches. She also understood her options in dealing with the loan arrangements with her daughter and how to obtain a divorce. Psycho-social supports and practical assistance in securing housing meant Brenda was able to leave an abusive and negative home environment.

    Social work support continued to provide Brenda with emotional support while she adjusted to the changes in her life.

    Brenda was satisfied that she had made informed decisions for her life and knows how to seek further help and advice from a range of sources should she require it.

    Brenda had contacted the Seniors Legal and Support Service twice, about a year apart. She felt unable to act on the issues initially but was encouraged to recontact at any time.

    Brenda is vulnerable due to her age and related health issues, social isolation and lack of family support. A protection order and access to ongoing support service advice have given Brenda some confidence and feeling of safety to deal with her situation.

  • Jennifer and Frank are in their sixties and were in a relationship for five years. They have both been married previously and have adult children. Jennifer has always worked in various skilled positions, and entered retirement well self-funded, with superannuation savings and an unencumbered house property. Frank did not complete high school, however Jennifer believes he is highly intelligent with good commercial sense, and runs a seemingly successful business. Their relationship progressed quickly, and before long Frank had moved into Jennifer’s house. Frank had told Jennifer that he was divorced, but she learned much later, after having contact with his first wife with whom she became friends, that Frank had lied about this. Frank ran his business in a rural town a few hours’ drive from where Jennifer had been living for many years. Given the uncertain economic climate, Frank convinced Jennifer that it would be prudent to move to the town and keep a better eye on the business. Jennifer believed Frank was envisaging a 12-month plan, which she embraced as a welcome change from city life. With Frank’s strong encouragement, Jennifer bought an acreage property on the outskirts of the town, funded by a mortgage using the equity in her house, with Jennifer and Frank as joint borrowers.

    While Jennifer very much enjoys the rural setting and lifestyle, she describes signing the contract on the property as ‘signing her death warrant’. Having moved in—along with Jennifer’s two much-loved, blind and aging dogs—Frank became immediately violent. Jennifer is a confident and capable person, and thought Frank respected her for this; and yet if Frank didn’t get his own way, he began damaging the flooring and woodwork, breaking things, and throwing objects across the house, including coffee cups past Jennifer’s head, into the wall. One winter evening, having urged Jennifer to have a shower upstairs, Frank propped the pool gate open allowing one of her dogs to wander in and fall into the pool, leaving it to drown. At Jennifer’s inconsolable distress, Frank said aggressively ‘he’s dead, fucking get over it’. Jennifer believes that Frank resented her self-confidence, and relished trying to ‘bring her to her knees’. When they bought identical smartphones, their accounts were synchronised inadvertently, and Jennifer became aware that Frank was having relationships with other women, as she was able to read the incoming and outgoing text messages. Frank quickly arranged for the accounts to be desynchronised. The situation was intolerable to Jennifer, and she felt she had to bring an end to the relationship; with the help of her family, she managed to get Frank to move out of the house.

    Frank’s intimidation and abuse of Jennifer escalated on separation. Jennifer was forced to make the total monthly mortgage repayments on the property as Frank refused to contribute. Her retirement income could not sustain this substantial outlay; and soon she had no choice but to sell her city property, and apply the funds to discharge the mortgage, taxes and other outstanding expenses. Jennifer is unable to sell the acreage property due to a depressed real estate market, and even if she could, she would not have sufficient funds to buy where she had lived previously. She feels trapped and vulnerable in a small town where Frank also lives and runs his business. And yet she felt that in order to function in that environment she must adopt a cordial attitude to Frank, or life would be unbearable. Frank is a tall, extremely heavy man, with an aggressive demeanour. Initially after separating, Frank would come around to the house and offer to help with the pool and other jobs; however the situation would often deteriorate quickly and, if Jennifer didn’t accede to his various demands, Frank would yell profanities at her, and take the pool equipment or the car, returning them only when he decided Jennifer was behaving properly. Frank then began stalking Jennifer by coming to the house at night, peering into and rapping on windows, and going through the garbage bins and letterbox. Jennifer became increasingly fearful of Frank’s behaviour, and called the police on a number of occasions.

    For the most part, Jennifer feels the police were approachable enough, but ineffective in advising her of her rights or available protections; one officer referred to an incident as ‘just a domestic’. This was the case until one day Frank arrived at the house demanding that he and Jennifer resume living together; he threw a coffee cup over the balcony, and when Jennifer tried to close the automated swing door as he was storming out of the garage, he stopped the door in its tracks, buckled and broke it, and told her, ‘I’ll get you, you fucking bitch’. That night, once police were alerted, they took charge of the matter, and obtained a temporary protection order on Jennifer’s behalf and charged Frank with intimidation and criminal damage to property. Jennifer recalls feeling dumbfounded by their heavy-handed turnaround, and terrified of how Frank would react, most particularly towards her, given the comprehensive and damning statement she had provided the police. She also didn’t realise she would end up in court.

    Jennifer felt frustrated and diminished by the court process. She was cross examined by Frank’s lawyer for a lengthy period, and subjected to attacks on her character and behaviour. The prosecutor did not interview Jennifer prior to the hearing, and therefore had little or no understanding of the facts and context of the matter, most importantly the history of Frank’s domestic and family violence towards Jennifer. Frank behaved inappropriately in the courtroom, and the (visiting) Magistrate threatened his removal from the court room. He also gave inconsistent evidence, which on the criminal damage charge wasn’t believed, and ultimately he was fined, and a conviction recorded. He was acquitted of the intimidation charge as the Magistrate found there was a lack of evidence. Jennifer believes that had she been given an opportunity to provide a full account of the facts and context to the prosecutor, this would have been conveyed to the Magistrate. When she walked out of the courthouse, Frank yelled abuse at Jennifer and told her he was going to get her. Frank has recently successfully appealed the conviction, and successfully contested the issue of a final protection order.

    Frank has never paid for the damage to the garage door, and while the Magistrate said the civil matter could be dealt with at a courthouse located in another town, the legal, travel and associated costs would have been prohibitive to Jennifer. She was also unable to claim on insurance without bearing a disproportionate penalty. There is some prospect of Jennifer claiming victim compensation; however she has not felt strong enough to begin this process.

    Jennifer believes that she has done all she can to secure her home with cameras, lights and locks, and yet she feels profoundly unsafe. He has continued to intimidate her from the neighbours’ fence line and from the street and elsewhere in the small town. Frank has also ingratiated himself to some of her children and their partners undermining her own relationship with them in his efforts to hurt and distress her emotionally. Despite having obtained the order on her behalf in the first instance, the police have now told her there is nothing more they can do for her. At this stage, Jennifer fears for her life and future, and can see no legal recourse for her protection. She has also discovered that Frank has had similarly violent relationships with other women in the past and also that Frank has told neighbours that Jennifer is mad and unbalanced.