By Kathleen Hoy Foley
But what about elder abuse that is invisible to the eye? What about elder abuse that is permitted? Not only permitted, but encouraged and celebrated? It is particularly sinister when abuse disguises itself as a noble cause and delivers its wounds from the shadows, especially to those unequipped to protect themselves. Abuse, no matter what name it goes by or how it is concealed, always injures a body and damages a life.
An elderly person subjected to abuse forgoes all hope for emotional recovery. The impact is too great; the time to rebuild what has been destroyed too limited. Abuse perpetuated against an elderly woman defines the rest of her life. It is her final chapter. For many of us, it was also our first chapter.
I am an old woman among thousands of old women across this country who, as juveniles, were brutally impregnated in a time when we did not own our own bodies, when sexual assault lacked description, and termination rights did not exist. Rape was our offense. And pregnancy was our punishment. We hid out in maternity homes. But the finger of public accusation found us anyway and pointed straight at our disgraced, swollen bellies. Eventually we were rescued by the confidential adoption process that freed us from all connections to the assailant and returned us to our lives. But we were permanently, catastrophically injured, and forever shamed. We are shame—embodied and visceral. Trauma is our permanent, screeching companion.
Once again we stand accused. We are elderly women hunted because of those secret, shameful pregnancies. We are ghosts fabricated from delusions. We are worn bodies hunted by younger aggressors manic with obsession, spewing anger the equivalent of road rage. We are relics hunted for our names; our lineage; for the blood circulating in our veins. We are fossils hunted for the bones and flesh that structure our images. We are sideshow freaks hunted for our deformities and DNA. We are little girls in wrinkled skin hunted to provide humiliating, ancient sexual details. We were forced breeders, broodmares hunted now as mothers.
We are invisible. Young aggressors mock our trauma as fictional. Yet we are in your family, among your friends. We eat at your Thanksgiving table. We are mute, unseen old women singed by the legacy of sexual violence. Violence that never found justice or voice. We could not seek justice because justice was not available to us. We had no name for rape or sexual abuse. No words for the unspeakable. No reference for sexual violence committed by familiar faces. Sexual assault was part of our lives. It occurred in our homes. In our schools. In our churches. At family gatherings. We were invisible girls assaulted in plain sight. It was what we endured and what we were blamed for. It was a time when girls lived at the mercy of male aggressors—sexual predators who frolicked on wide-open playgrounds. We were their free amusement.
Now we are elderly women terrified of exposure. We have protected our loved ones from our sordid pasts even as we live trembling in dark, secret hiding from its pursuit. We know that our families cannot protect us. Caregivers won’t protect us. Nursing homes, like the archaic maternity homes where once we cowered, can’t protect us. No cop with a gun strapped to his hip can protect us from abuse that is permitted.
As the clamor to unseal confidential adoption records grows steadily louder and increasingly hostile and the public imagines fairytale “reunions,” elderly women are silently absorbing the blows and sucker punches landed by aggressors advancing toward them in revenge. Lawmakers are swayed by ignoble rhetoric from aggressors disguising themselves as champions for adoption reform and retroactive justice. The public is influenced by delusions of sentimental, made-for-television, “mommy” moments, as the mental health community remains stonewall silent on the living damage of past sexual trauma in the elderly. All the while, traumatized old women remain targets of strangers hunting them—aggressors enjoying public and legal support as they claim entitlement to elderly women’s lives, their beloved families, and their cherished homes during their final, fleeting chapters.
June 15 is Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Abusing an elderly woman by invading her life, destroying her privacy, and exposing her past sexual wounds is indefensible. Perverting that abuse into a righteous cause and celebrating it as a victory is not only contemptible, it is a call for political action and criminal prosecution.
We are the mute old women sitting at your dinner table. We are elderly women terrified of the aggressors chasing us because of a catastrophic, confidential pregnancy.
We need your help.
Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15