One in four older women abused?

So says a study looking at lifetime physical and emotional abuse.

Published March 9, 2007 1:16AM (EST)

Recent coverage of a study finding that more than 25 percent of elderly women had been victims of physical and emotional abuse by a spouse revealed a scourge of creative copy writing more than a plague of domestic violence among the geriatric set.

"Intimate Partner Violence in Older Women," which surveyed 370 elderly women from Washington and Idaho, reported that more than a quarter had been abused (physically or mentally) by an "intimate partner" sometime in their life. With intimate partners being defined to include husbands, boyfriends, ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends, that's a whole lot of relationships gone wrong. With psychological abuse being defined as name calling and feeling controlled by a partner, well, one can imagine those behaviors rearing their ugly heads during otherwise civilized breakups.

But the study still uncovers some sobering, neglected realities of many women's lives. Nearly 4 percent of the women reported that they had been abused in the past five years. More than 18 percent reported suffering sexual or physical abuse by partners and that the time frames for such abusive relationships averaged more than three years. If these women are a representative sample, that adds up to many lost years for many women.

Unfortunately, according to researcher Amy Bonomi, the group was not a representative sample. According to an article in the Senior Journal, Bonomi said that she thought the real incidences of abuse were probably much higher since they asked women to recall experiences over an entire life span and that the group of subjects -- who were all well-educated and consistently insured -- tend to have lower violence rates than uninsured women without formal education.

What's to be done? The study suggests there's at least one place where society is failing these women: Only 3 percent recall being asked by a doctor if they had suffered physical or sexual violence since age 18. That's a whole lot of not asking questions that unfortunately still need to be asked.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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