RALEIGH, October 24, 2017 – October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. When most people think of domestic violence, they probably picture violence among couples or towards children. But what about abuse of senior citizens by their families or caretakers, is that domestic violence? Yes. North Carolina's domestic violence law, General Statute 50B, often referred to simply as 50B, covers more than just romantic and parental relationships. It offers important protections and forms of relief for elderly victims, too.
50B lists the types of "personal relationships" that qualify under the law. Parent-child and grandparent-grandchild relationships are specifically mentioned, as are "current or former household members," which could include any family member, friend, caretaker or roommate who has lived with the victim. And of course, abuse in romantic relationships is possible at any age, whether the relationship is new or decades old. An elderly victim in one of these qualifying relationships may obtain the same types of relief through a protective order as a younger victim abused by their spouse. However, relief under 50B is only available if the abuser is over the age of sixteen, regardless of the relationship.
Relief under 50B can include a court order to keep the abuser away from the victim's home. Unfortunately, such a measure is sometimes the only way to keep an abusive family member away, given family dynamics and routine access that caretakers, children or grandchildren may have to the victim's residence. A protective order can trigger legal safeguards including mandatory arrests when certain terms of the order are violated – for example, when the perpetrator refuses to stay away from the victim's home.
When a family member is abusing an elderly person, the close relationship may make it difficult to contemplate seeking a protective order against the abuser. Whether to take such action should always be the victim's decision, but there is always help and support available even if they are not ready to take action. The resources available to younger victims in married or dating relationships are also often available to elderly victims. The North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence lists shelters and advocacy organizations by county on its website. These organizations can often provide shelter, counseling, safety planning and other supportive services to victims, regardless of whether they wish to pursue criminal charges or seek a protective order.
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Jennifer Stuart is an attorney in Raleigh with Legal Aid of North Carolina's Senior Law Project (SLP). She writes monthly articles about legal issues affecting seniors. The SLP provides free civil legal help to North Carolinians who are 60 or older. To contact the SLP, call 1-877-579-7562 (toll-free), Monday through Friday, 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m.