Woman, 81, has experienced 57 years of domestic abuse in marriage

Grace's favourite part of the day is the night. It's the only time she feels completely safe from her husband.

The 81-year-old has been abused across 57 years of marriage

For the past six decades, the 81-year-old has been domestically abused.

She recalls how her husband, George, would go to the races, allowing her and their children an afternoon of freedom, only to return "smelling of whisky".

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"If he’d lost, he’d treat me to a beating," says Grace, who was also abused in her childhood.

Almost 1,000 people in Scotland were told of their partner's domestic abuse past in the past year

"The bruises [would be] carefully administered to areas on my body that wouldn’t be seen."

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George also controlled her finances and even dictated how she styled her hair. If Grace ever left him, he threatened to take it out on her beloved cat.

As George's physical ailments have worsened, meaning he can't manage the stairs in their home any more, Grace is afforded some security at night.

"He sleeps downstairs and allows me to sleep upstairs," she says.

"Night-time is my favourite part of the day. I can rest knowing he can’t get to me and feel safe for the first time in years. I lie in bed and my thoughts are completely my own.

"And here we are, 57 years of marriage. 'Congratulations, what an achievement,' people say. If only they knew."

200,000 older people abused last year

Grace is not alone in her devastating account of domestic abuse in old age. She is one of 200,000 older people who experienced such violence last year in England and Wales, according to charity Age UK.

Older women made up 139,500 of those who faced abuse - a similar rate to younger women - but it may be just the tip of the iceberg.

No data is collected about domestic abuse survivors past the age of 74, so the true impact among the older population is largely unknown.

In Scotland almost 1,000 people were told by police about their partner's abusive past in the past year.

The Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse in Scotland gives people the right to ask if their current partner may have an abusive past.

The legislation also gives police the power to tell someone if they think they may be at risk.

New figures show that between 1 October last year and 30 September, a total of 924 disclosures were made.

What's more, Age UK said this generation might be more reluctant to report abuse by family members or carers.

Now the charity is calling on the Government to rewrite its Domestic Abuse Bill, which is due to receive its second reading in Parliament on 2 October, to ensure it takes into account the experiences of all people, regardless of their age.

“There’s a widespread misconception that domestic abuse only happens to younger people, but sadly hundreds of thousands of older people are affected too," said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.

"It’s high time that this was fully recognised by the law, policy and practice so that the needs of older survivors can be identified and properly met."

The charity uncovered worrying figures about the domestic abuse faced by older people after analysing the Crime Survey for England and Wales for 2017/18, as well as data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

1 in 4 victims over age of 60

In 2017, one in four victims of domestic abuse killings were over the age of 60. In total, more than 200,000 people aged between 60 and 74 experienced domestic abuse.

The analysis, set out in Age UK's new report The Hidden Face of Domestic Abuse, also found older people were almost equally likely to be killed by a partner or spouse as they were by their adult children or grandchildren.

The report, which includes testimonies from older survivors like Grace, highlights the lack of data from the National Crime Survey regarding people aged 75 and older.

Age UK claimed this was ageist and that it helped "to keep the problem of domestic abuse in later life well and truly hidden, hindering efforts to get support to older people who desperately need it".

Calling for immediate change, the charity has drawn up a raft of recommendations for MPs to take into account for the Domestic Abuse Bill.

They include training health care practitioners in older people's issues and how to spot abuse, gathering data of domestic abuse for people of all ages - not just up to 75 - and altering the definition of domestic abuse.

Age UK wants it to cover abuse perpetrated by those who are in trusted positions and provide unpaid care, such as friends and neighbours, as well as family members.

Bring older domestic abuse survivors in from the cold

"We want this bill to include provisions to bring older domestic abuse survivors in from the cold, and that means in particular recognising the important roles that health professionals can play in spotting when domestic abuse is going on and in supporting older survivors to get the help they need," Ms Abrahams said.

"It may well be that the first time domestic abuse comes to light is when an older person is admitted to hospital, or discharged back home, so it’s the professionals working with older people in these contexts who need some specific training the most.”

Age UK's report said domestic abuse "remains a highly gendered crime", with women more likely to be killed than male victims of domestic abuse.

According to the charity's analysis, 139,500 older women experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in 2017 compared to 74,300 older men.

Women's Aid and Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, are backing Age UK's recommendations for the bill.

“Domestic abuse can happen to any woman, regardless of age. We know, however, that some older women might not recognise their experience as domestic abuse or may find it difficult to ask for help because they are dependent on their abuser," said Adina Claire, acting co-chief executive at Women’s Aid.

Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of Agenda, said: “Domestic abuse can happen to women at any time in life. Time and again signs are not picked up by professionals. This can have devastating consequences."