“If it wasn’t for those beautiful people at Vinnies, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Joan’s husband of 50 years died, and her own children turned against her. They told Joan she wasn’t welcome in the family home she had built. They took all her money, and they put her out on the street.

“I was broken-hearted. I had lost my husband. I had lost my home. I had lost my family. I had nothing to live for.”

She was in poor health, having trouble walking but the terror itself paralysed her. At the roadside, with nothing but a simple suitcase, Joan was alone with nowhere to go. It was the week before Christmas and Joan was seventy years old.

The abuse of older women is becoming more and more prevalent. As Michelle, Joan’s case worker explains, “People have a vision of what homeless people are, but it’s usually not what you imagine. It can be your mother or your grandmother. It doesn’t take a lot for someone to find themselves with nothing.”

In the aftermath of her husband’s death, while still wrestling with her grief and pain, Joan’s children turned against her. The very people Joan should’ve been able to rely on, abused her while she was at her most vulnerable.

They banished Joan to a small room at the top of the house, and her grandson would sneak a sandwich to her when he could. Joan was isolated and living under the constant threat of violence.

Then Joan’s children went even further. They took complete control of Joan’s life by stealing her life’s savings and taking ownership of the family home. Joan was defenceless to her children’s attacks. And in an act of pure cruelty, they threw Joan out and abandoned her on a street.

Joan’s story highlights a growing and deeply concerning trend - that not all domestic violence is physical or sexual. And, in fact, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, all the terrible things that Joan experienced, all stem from an abuser’s perverse need for power and control.

Like all Vinnies’ case workers, Michelle responded to Joan in two extremely important ways: she immediately found Joan a safe place to rest, away from Joan’s abusive children, and having settled Joan into crisis accommodation, she then worked to understand Joan’s needs in detail. And it was at this point that the full horror of Joan’s suffering emerged.

It was painfully clear to Michelle that Joan required urgent medical help, but also financial and legal support in addition to finding a long-term solution to Joan’s living arrangements.

Vinnies is uniquely placed to help women like Joan through services including Our Lady of the Way - the only refuge for older women in NSW and Michelle has been working to rebuild her health, happiness, and self-esteem ever since.

Today, one in six Australian women is experiencing physical or sexual violence. What’s more, Covid-19 is forcing women and their abusers together for longer. Incredibly, Google Australia is witnessing an increase of 75% in searches for domestic violence help – the highest rate in five years.

We know older women in particular stay longer before leaving their abuser and are more likely to be living with a disability, and to be hurt by a family member. Right now, helping older women recover and rebuild their shattered lives after experiencing domestic and family violence is a key focus at Vinnies.

Learn more about our domestic abuse support services in NSW