May 31, 1997 in Nation/World

Abused Elderly A Secret Tragedy Older Women Quietly Victimized

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Helen Hargrave quit a job she loved to care for her aged and ailing husband.

Her last day at work, on May 1, she told colleagues he kept a handgun on an end table and threatened to shoot her and then himself.

Please be careful, colleagues told her. But her attitude seemed almost resigned.

“When you’re 71, there’s nowhere else to go,” co-worker Bill Fowler said. “You’re too old to run away.”

Friday, Hargrave was mourned at a Riplinger Funeral Home chapel packed with family, friends and flowers. No services were scheduled for her husband.

On Memorial Day, Charles Hargrave, 83, argued with his wife of 54 years. He pushed her to the ground, followed her to the porch of their northeast Spokane home and shot and killed her before shooting himself.

Prosecutors and domestic violence specialists aren’t surprised that signs of trouble never reached the police. Few cases are as difficult, as disheartening or as disturbing as violence between partners of many years.

“Women growing up in the early part of this century are very, very hesitant to come forward,” said Carolyn Morrison of Spokane’s Alternatives to Domestic Violence program. “It’s a very big, dark family secret. They just believe it’s their cross to bear.”

Older women who are threatened verbally or physically fall between the cracks nationwide. In the last two decades, the issue of elder abuse has focused almost solely on abuse and neglect by a stressed caregiver. The battered women’s movement has focused on physical violence against young women, often with children.

“Thus, older battered women do not fit neatly within either field’s typical caseload or response system,” concluded a 1992 American Association of Retired Persons study.

In Spokane, older women call the women’s shelter, Morrison said. But they almost never go further.

“The elderly cry out for the help but they’re the hardest community to crack,” she said.

“They’ve lived this life 40 years and this is all they know,” said Jonathan Love, a Spokane County prosecutor who leads the domestic violence team. “It makes it very difficult for a victim to extricate herself. They are so intertwined, financially and socially. It’s difficult to start a life over at 70 years old.”

Age plays a unique and often escalating factor in the tension between a couple. In rare instances, a head injury, dementia or mini-strokes can turn a nonviolent partner violent.

Medical conditions can also interfere with someone’s ability to control impulsiveness and emotions, said Marcia Riddle, Adult Protective Services supervisor for Spokane County. Riddle recently asked Morrison to speak to her staff because they are seeing more issues between elderly spouses.

More common are chronic batterers who worsen with age as other problems like depression, impotence and alcohol abuse worsen.

Battered older women are different from their younger counterparts, too, in that they suffer more. They bruise easier. A punch to the ribs can break them. Verbal abuse that causes severe emotional damage is often dismissed as crankiness.

Love said by the time cases reach his office, the abuse has often been going on for decades and resolution is complicated.

Typical was a case this spring when a Spokane man was sentenced to 60 days in jail for beating his wife.

In court, he told the judge his wife had done a poor job preparing dinner. For the next eight hours, he punched, slapped and shoved her, before passing out. When he woke up, he began beating her again, accusing her of having an affair. He was 70. She was 66.

He was convicted of felony assault and sentenced to jail. While he was jailed, she was ironing his clothes and preparing meals for when he’d get home.

“There are still remnants of the old school where the male was the head of household and where whatever happened in the confines of that family was their own business,” said Riddle.

Children of such marriages are caught between concern for their own welfare and their parents, and between what is acceptable for them to discuss.

“It’s real hard for a child to approach a parent about that kind of behavior,” Riddle said. “Many people grew up believing that was what your folks did and to not chastise them.” Many children cope by changing what they can - namely, their own lives.

Family members Friday declined to discuss Helen or Charles Hargrave. There is no record of any domestic violence calls to the home. No case has ever been brought against Charles Hargrave.

But at the Head Start in Hillyard where Helen Hargrave worked part-time preparing and delivering meals, she spoke of coming to work to get away from her spouse. Family told police Charles Hargrave was ill with heart trouble and increasingly mean.

At Head Start, colleagues spoke in the hope that her story might help other older women who may be living with a threatening husband. They also spoke because they adored her.

“We loved her,” said Adela Castro.

“Helen was so full of life, she loved her job and this is a hard job,” said Patt Earley.

In the kitchen where 500 meals are prepared daily for children throughout Spokane, rock ‘n’ roll music often blasts “at the threshold of pain.” Hargrave, unfazed by the music, was an Energizer bunny who younger people had to wrest physical jobs away from.

“Shape up,” she’d call out as she arrived each morning. They called her “Spud,” and she drove off the last day of work with a Spud King sign taped to the back of her small pickup.

Colleagues and friends talked about grandchildren she doted on, particularly Courtney, who was living with her and witnessed the shooting. The Hargraves had nine children, 23 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Her coffee cup “Hot stuff” still hangs on the Head Start wall. Her last paycheck sits in a mail box.

The day Hargrave left Head Start to nurse her husband, she said she hoped to come back someday.

“I have a lot of living left to do,” she said.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar was published Sunday, June 1, 1997, on page B3: HELP AVAILABLE FOR OLDER VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Editor’s note: The following information should have appeared in Saturday’s paper with an article about elderly abuse.

Several local efforts are under way to help older victims of domestic violence: Alternatives to Domestic Violence staff are working closely with physicians at Group Health and first-year residents at Family Medicine Spokane to train doctors to recognize signs of abuse. Offenders are now sentenced to a yearlong mandatory treatment program instead of a four-week anger management course. The more intense program includes group therapy, confrontation with victims and substance abuse treatment. “It’s a significant problem and it can’t be dealt with in a few short weeks,” said Deputy Prosecutor Jonathan Love. Next week, Spokane County plans to open a new domestic violence office next to the courthouse at Monroe Court. Nine prosecutors, three detectives and six domestic violence advocates will be housed there so victims need only visit one place. On May 5, 100 local ministers and lay people attended a training session on churches’ responsibility in domestic violence cases. Religious leaders are often the only people older victims confide in. Victims are urged to call: Alternatives to Domestic Violence 24-hour crisis hotline, 327-9534.

This sidebar was published Sunday, June 1, 1997, on page B3: HELP AVAILABLE FOR OLDER VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Editor’s note: The following information should have appeared in Saturday’s paper with an article about elderly abuse.

Several local efforts are under way to help older victims of domestic violence: Alternatives to Domestic Violence staff are working closely with physicians at Group Health and first-year residents at Family Medicine Spokane to train doctors to recognize signs of abuse. Offenders are now sentenced to a yearlong mandatory treatment program instead of a four-week anger management course. The more intense program includes group therapy, confrontation with victims and substance abuse treatment. “It’s a significant problem and it can’t be dealt with in a few short weeks,” said Deputy Prosecutor Jonathan Love. Next week, Spokane County plans to open a new domestic violence office next to the courthouse at Monroe Court. Nine prosecutors, three detectives and six domestic violence advocates will be housed there so victims need only visit one place. On May 5, 100 local ministers and lay people attended a training session on churches’ responsibility in domestic violence cases. Religious leaders are often the only people older victims confide in. Victims are urged to call: Alternatives to Domestic Violence 24-hour crisis hotline, 327-9534.


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