For Older Women, A Refuge From Emotional Abuse The Older Battered Women's Program in Lynn, Mass., serves women who are in abusive relationships. Many have been struggling with emotional abuse for decades, and come to the program for support and counsel.

For Older Women, A Refuge From Emotional Abuse

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And it's not just teens who sometimes struggle with relationships, of course. A recent report for the Justice Department found that 11 percent of older people say they've experienced physical violence, sexual abuse or emotional abuse in the last year.

NPR's Joseph Shapiro talked with a social worker who helps older women in Massachusetts.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: Katie Galenius runs a counseling center in Lynn, Massachusetts called the Older Battered Women's Program. For the women she helps, emotional abuse is more common than physical violence and often harder for an older woman to get over.

Ms. KATIE GALENIUS (Counselor, Older Battered Women's Program): Because it's those negative messages that play in your head over and over and over again, that you're not good enough, that nobody would want you, that you're a bad mother. You're a bad wife. You don't have any friends. Nobody likes you. You're stupid. You're uneducated, even for women who are highly educated. She doesn't have anyone talking in her other ear saying, that's not true. You are a good person. He's wrong. He's trying to take away your confidence and your self-esteem. Don't let him.

SHAPIRO: Galenius will be that person whispering in a woman's other ear, giving support to try to wash away those years of cutting remarks and put-downs. Women come to see her or attend the support group meetings she holds at this office on the second floor of Greater Lynn Senior Services. It's as comfy as a grandmother's living room, with high-back chairs, lace curtains, a smell of coffee from the pot on the table. Galenius remembers the clients she meets here.

Ms. GALENIUS: One woman that I had worked with, her name is Jane, and she was living with emotional abuse at home. He wouldn't let the grandchildren visit. He wouldn't let her visit with the other women in the complex that she lived in. He wouldn't even let her go out and get the mail until after the mailman left the complex, because he thought she may be flirting with him.

SHAPIRO: Jane was 73.

Ms. GALENIUS: And she said, you know, I've been married 48 years. And she just said I don't want to upset the family, but I just don't know if I can live like this anymore. Her physical health was failing, and she was having a very difficult time.

SHAPIRO: For religious and family reasons, Jane didn't want a divorce, so Galenius told her that even without a formal divorce, she could still go to court to get a share of their joint assets.

After four months of counseling and checking with lawyers, Jane just left behind whatever money or assets she might have been entitled to. She took some clothes, her statue of the Virgin Mary and her $300 monthly check from Social Security. Jane left her husband and moved into an apartment of her own.

Ms. GALENIUS: And I do recall talking to her after her first night in her new apartment, and I was a little concerned about her, you know, being able to live alone. And she said, Katie, when I closed that door behind me last night, it was the first time that I felt safe in 50 years.

SHAPIRO: Jane still comes around the Galenius' support group meeting. Galenius says the other women are inspired when they see someone who got out from under an emotionally abusive husband.

Ms. GALENIUS: Oh, she's just happy and content, and her physical health has improved tenfold. She's energetic. She has friends. She enjoys walking. It's amazing the difference that it has made in her life.

SHAPIRO: The program in Massachusetts is one of only a dozen or so standalone centers in the country set up to counsel older women in abusive relationships. When Galenius took this job 11 years ago, she wasn't sure what she was getting herself into.

Ms. GALENIUS: Well, I think at first I thought, you know, maybe it might be -end up being depressing work, that it would be hard to go home at the end of the day and you have a heavy heart because you couldn't do enough, but it - on the contrary. It has been extremely rewarding, you know, for a social worker to kind of walk that journey with these women.

SHAPIRO: According to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, older women anywhere can find help simply by calling their area agency on aging.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

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