'Many people are afraid to report it': Help is available for Cork elder abuse victims

Deborah O’Flynn, who works with victims of domestic violence, tells Sarah Horgan that elderly people in Cork are being intimidated and abused in their homes, often by adult children whom they continue to protect
'Many people are afraid to report it': Help is available for Cork elder abuse victims

A DOMESTIC-violence-prevention organisation has spoken about the elder abuse of some of its clients, whether subjected to physical violence or bizarre house rules.

A DOMESTIC-violence-prevention organisation has spoken about the elder abuse of some of its clients, whether subjected to physical violence or bizarre house rules.

Deborah O’Flynn, who is the co-ordinator of OSS Cork — a resource centre for domestic-violence victims — is raising awareness of the issue to encourage those trapped in similar situations to access help.

Ms O’Flynn and her team have helped abuse victims from all walks of life, including women and men suffering at the hands of partners and people affected by elder abuse.

One elderly woman who availed of their services had every aspect of her life controlled by a son who imposed time limits on cooking and decided what she watched on television.

Another man came to her with severe bruising on the side of his face, after his son had flown into a rage.

Both had spent years living in fear, before mustering the courage to seek external support.

“One lady’s son had a mild learning difficulty,” Deborah said. “As a result, she was afraid that he wouldn’t survive if he left the house.

“Nonetheless, the learning difficulty was too mild to warrant the kind of behaviour he was demonstrating. Her world was constricting, even though this was happening in her own home.

“There were time limits on how long she could cook and spend in the kitchen. Her freedom of movement was taken away.”

Ms O’Flynn said the turning point came when her son deprived her of what she loved best.

“He was doing a lot of drinking at the time,” Ms O’Flynn said. “At first, she was happy to see that he was going out and making friends. However, the drinking became a problem and he would shout at her aggressively.

“The thing that she lived for was her soap operas. The day he took away the remote control from her was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The abuse had been going on for years before that.

“A social-work team came to do spot visits. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in these situations, but, in this case, the fact that there was an official presence in the house meant that he made sure he was on his best behaviour.”

Many clients are too afraid to report the abuse.

Referring to one service user, Ms O’Flynn said: “The abuse would occur when his son came to visit.

“There was an extra dynamic at play, because his wife wanted to make sure their son was getting at least one good meal a week. The father didn’t want to take out a barring order, so we worked with him on developing different safety strategies, like staying in another room when he came over. There had been tensions for many years.

“When the father was assaulted, he did make a report. Nonetheless, there’s a difference between making a report and filing a complaint. They just logged it on the system, because he didn’t want it investigated.”

Ms O’Flynn said the majority of cases had one common denominator.

“In nearly all of these cases — whether it’s abuse from a partner or son or daughter — there is a huge degree of secrecy and an innate feeling of needing to protect the abuser,” Ms O’Flynn said. “That’s a common thread running through all these stories.

“When you have a child who’s hurting you, the emotion is different. You still feel this sense of responsibility, even if the son or daughter you are dealing with is now an adult. Often, there are drink and drugs involved. However, they are just a factor and should never, in any circumstances, excuse the abuse.”

Ms O’Flynn said that abusers are irresponsible in the way they exploit their power.

“It’s fair to say that many of us find ourselves in situations where we have the power,” Ms O’Flynn said “It’s what we do with the power that counts. With power comes responsibility, but abusers aren’t willing to take that responsibility.

“When someone leaves you in doubt about what you are experiencing, it’s severely disempowering. It means that the victim makes a decision based on avoiding certain consequences.

“One woman we spoke to summed it up very well, when she spoke of her partner saying that ‘he is controlling the atmosphere in the house’.”

The OSS Cork was founded as a pilot project in 2000, as one of the recommendations of the Southern Regional Committee on Violence Against Women, providing support to all adult victims of domestic violence.

Over the years, the organisation has evolved into a full-time, professional, comprehensive service, offering a suite of supports to victims, their concerned family members and friends, professionals and others.

The service is available to both men and women over the age of 18.

  • To find out more about the centre, visit www.osscork.com
  • Those wishing to access support can also call the freephone helpline on 1800 497 497.

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