The accident was the trigger. The second accident, actually. The first time, Maria (1) was able to take the wheel and swerve the car off the road to brake in the fields. The couple did well. When Maria asked him why he did that, he replied, “I wanted to kill you. Humor, supposedly. The second time, in 2015, was more agonizing: 13 broken ribs, lung effusion, damaged collarbone, head trauma, broken knees and toes. After three and a half months in hospital and a rehabilitation center, Maria understood that she was in danger. And for a long time. An escalation of psychological and moral violence in sixty years of living together. “What are these clothes?” », « You’re ugly, go to the hairdresser! », « Your cooking is disgusting! “I noticed that it has been fifteen years since he no longer calls me by my first name, realizes this 82-year-old woman. He talks without really speaking to me. “He made several scandals, uttered threats, “but he never touched me”, assures Maria. And yet, they sleep apart, because she doesn’t like his reactions when he drinks. When she found knives in her belongings, she made them disappear. And she always sleeps “with her ears pointed”. Anyway, at his age, the octogenarian is a light sleeper, his back hurts, and his asthma often comes back in the evening. So she watches. Is this how old women can live?
Evaporated from official censuses
Looking at the studies, these suffering seniors do not exist. After the age of 60 or at most 70, these ladies evaporate from the official censuses. The first national survey listing violence against women (Enveff) stopped at age 59, that on the context of sexuality in France at age 69, as did the precious Virage survey (Violences et relations de genre, carried out by the Ined). And no specific measure came out of the Grenelle of domestic violence in 2019. However, white hair does not have the power to stop violence. “Not including women aged 70-90 in these surveys makes the phenomenon very invisible”, alert Carole Keruzore, director of the Parisian association Libre Terres des femmes, specializing in violence against women. “We never talk about this audience. However, for five years, I have seen these women come to us. Each year, we receive between 25 and 30 people over 70 years old. Let’s not forget that these elderly ladies represent 21% of feminicides. » No prevention campaign is aimed at this target to inform them about domination, influence, coercive control, isolation, intimidation, blackmailing children, etc.
For Patrizia Romito, professor of social psychology at the University of Trieste, and author of A dead silenceprejudices are still too powerful when it comes to seniors. “This is still a question that has little social visibility. It is wrongly thought that older women are less victims of violence. When they manifest the onset of dementia, their speech appears less credible. It is difficult to cross the two keys to reading that concern them: that of gender and that of old age. They are placed in two separate boxes. However, the elderly, vulnerable, can be victims of violence in institutions, by partners, relatives, and also victims of sexual violence. »
“I met my husband in 1963, remembers maria . With my aunt, we went dancing every Saturday evening in a cafe that had a ball. We got together: we were very much in love with each other. I wonder now why he married me. I ask myself many questions. All my life, he has vexed me with his gestures, his words. I believed it would change with time, with love, with patience. But it got worse. » It was the local social worker who directed Maria to an association. So far, like many victims, she did not dare leave her husband, the father of her children. Relatives did not help her. “When the children were small, I thought about getting a divorce. But my mother told me that I had to think of them. If I left him, who would want a woman with children? She knew I loved them. I tried again five years ago. I had even hired a lawyer. But my husband was starting to get sick. My daughter told me that I couldn’t abandon him, leave him alone. She knows I’m right, but she also loves her father. And he swore a lot of things to me, and I gave up. I gave in so much for years. I wanted to believe that this time was the right one. »
In retirement, “a social life that withers”
Carole Keruzore often observes a very strong form of guilt on the part of the family. ” Occasionally, explains the director of Women’s Free Lands, family solidarity no longer exists. Children have had it all their youth and are fed up with it. Or they distanced themselves. A 70-year-old lady came to see us with her daughter, who lived in Australia and returned from time to time to Europe. She knew well what was happening at home since she was already experiencing it as a child. She wanted something set up for her mother. Magazines often present retirement as idyllic, with photos of young retirees in love, joy… But for many people, it also means less money, a withering social life, children gone and a difficult tete-a-tete between spouses. » All the more difficult when the husband was violent, young. It will not soften over time. But with age, psychological violence takes precedence over physical violence. “Psychological violence is worse, says Maria. Because it can’t be seen. But it’s continuous. At the slightest thing, my husband made fun of me, the clothes I made myself because I had no money. It hurt. »
If Maria benefits from access to the joint account, from having her name added to the checkbook, she remains economically dependent on her husband, like many women of her age. Some of her generation have never worked, confined all their lives to cleaning and cooking. Without financial autonomy, they cannot flee the home. Maria has always been a seamstress. Even today, she gives new life to her old dresses, readjusts her blouses, as an eternal coquette. “I was a clothing salesperson and I did alterations for three other merchants. I sewed at night and in the morning I took care of the children. I won money! But as it was black, today I receive 270 euros in retirement. I had payslips as a saleswoman, but when I went to the pension fund, I didn’t appear anywhere. It was too late, the business had closed. So now my husband has me because of it. I applied for HLM but never got it, because we own our apartment. We have both of our names on it. Otherwise, he would have kicked me out. I am sure of it. »
Lower wages, careers interrupted for parental leave, part-time work, precarious jobs: the average direct right pension received by women is 39.3% lower than that of men… Reversionary pensions and the increase for children have reduced the average difference at 25.2%. ” To cry “confides Carole Keruzore, who tries somehow to find solutions for the women who cross the door of her association. “We can advise them to ask for a divorce, file a complaint, possibly ask for a protection order. But these procedures are more or less long and not obvious. Where the difficulty is extreme is when there is a common heritage. If the gentleman does not want to sell, it may take a long time. But sir has a much higher pension than madam, and he can make the situation last. Or relocate more easily. Others are not even married under the community regime. The standard equation is: woman + divorce = impoverishment. But old woman + divorce = super-pauperization. To a 35-year-old lady, you can say “you will bounce back”. To a 75-year-old lady, you can’t tell her “you’re going to find a job”. »
An absence of specific establishments
Maria did try to get a divorce and find a new home, but no rental agency wanted an old woman with poor credit. Her husband, he found out by rummaging through his mail. Separations are often the cause of lethal violence. Maria is on her guard. “We must rethink the solutions for these elderly women”, says Françoise Brié, director general of the National Federation of Women’s Solidarity. Its network of associations manages, among other things, 3919, a national listening platform for women victims of violence; 10.3% of calls come from people over 70. A figure that has been constantly increasing since 2016. “Even if it’s not the most affected age group, continues Françoise Brié, our network is increasingly noticing the presence of older women who have difficulty leaving their homes. They lived there for many years, socialized in the neighborhood, and it is difficult to find a solution for them. We could be inspired by our relay houses, or social residences which are shared places, but by imposing a non-mix. But it’s getting ready. In the collective, you have to go to the housing commission. In fact, these women should be able to directly access a social residence or a relay network which does not impose a time limit. »
Emergency solutions are not designed for this age group. “The hotel in the suburbs a fortnight here, three weeks there, it’s perfectly unsuitable, alert Carole Keruzore. There are specialized establishments, like retirement homes, but it’s another form of life, and you can’t get there in a hurry. Everything is already complicated, but it is even more so for older women. I dream of going to Canada to visit their specialized establishments! Everything is ergonomically thought out: cupboards that are not too high, no stairs…”
Review in our society the place of the elders
It would also be necessary to train on a large scale: general practitioners, eye specialists, hearing specialists in contact with the elderly, liberal nurses, home helpers, but also relatives, to combat prejudice, not to assimilate Mr. violence to a “normal aspect of aging”, spot the signs, make known the dedicated organizations. And above all, to review the place of the elders in society. “We have to change the traditional idea that we have of taking charge of the response to the problem of the elderly! asserts Patrizia Romito. The mantra is to keep the elderly at home, to avoid institutions. But there are situations of an old woman with a violent old husband, whom she sometimes also takes care of. And she can’t take it anymore. We could consider, for this woman, a quality retirement home. We have to reverse the idea that at home is always better. »
Since she has been attending an association, Maria has the impression of ” regain control “. “The association brings me a lot of comfort and a desire to do things that I no longer had. Being able to say stop to my partner made me want to live. I regained more confidence. I have willpower: when one has resisted one’s husband for sixty years…” For the past five years, Maria has renewed her request for social housing every year and “knock on the door of all the elect”. She proudly shows her identity card renewed in 2022. Her “maiden name” appears in bold, first “because I’m tired of being called by his name”. “It’s getting back in hand, it’s freedom”, she assures. Yet she still can’t get away from her stalker, even though “from time to time, it yells in the cottages”. Does Maria still have her whole life ahead of her?