Between two and ten percent of seniors experience some type of elder abuse, and LGBT seniors have additional vulnerabilities that open them up to further opportunities for abuse. As discussed by the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging (led by SAGE), many people believe that elder abuse only pertains to bruises, broken bones, or other physical injuries; however, experts define elder abuse as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment, and financial exploitation.
For the most part, LGBT seniors face the same types of abuse as non-LGBT elders. However, LGBT elders can be victimized in additional ways, and more reasons exist why people are so accepting of this type of victimization. The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging notes that these additional factors for LGBT seniors include:
Abuser threatens to “out” the senior
Despite the recent legal advancements for LGBT individuals, people still discriminate and are prejudiced against LGBT society. Many seniors in the LGBT community still feel safer keeping their sexual orientation a secret. Abusers who discover this fact threaten to “out” these seniors unless they submit to abuse. Many LGBT elders feel that it is easier to take the abuse than be outed, especially if they are LGBT grandparents whose children and grandchildren are unaware of their sexual orientation.
Abuser tells senior that authorities will not believe him
Abusers often tell their LGBT victims that the authorities will not believe them if they try to report the abuse. If the victim is known as LGBT or has to come out in order to fully report the abuse, they may keep silent for fear of facing police prejudice or violence.
Abuser gains control of finances/assets
Most LGBT partnerships are not protected by marriage or community property laws. As a result, it is much easier for abusers to take advantage of LGBT seniors’ finances or assets. This means that victims would be homeless or penniless if they leave their abusers. The same can happen if their report leads to the abuser being jailed or otherwise removed.
Victim fears “spending the rest of my life alone”
Older LGBT seniors have been told for decades that they will “end up alone” and ageism within this community seems to confirm this assumption. The threat of spending the rest of their lives alone or without meaningful human contact is another way that abusers keep their LGBT victims close. It also makes LGBT seniors particularly susceptible to “sweetheart scammers” that get form relationships with people in this community specifically to gain access to their financial resources.
Victim is easier to isolate
It is incredibly common for abusers to isolate their victims so that they become completely dependent on their abusers and so no one else will notice the abuse. Isolating an LGBT senior can be easier than isolating a non-LGBT senior because many are already estranged from their family. In addition, many LGBT elders do not feel comfortable in settings that cater mostly to non-LGBT people. Besides avoiding senior centers and meal sites, some LGBT seniors go as far as avoiding healthcare professionals for fear of discrimination or prejudice.