Combating violence against older women

From 2007 to 2009, the Austrian Red Cross coordinated the project “Breaking the Taboo”, which aimed to raise awareness of the problem of violence against older women amongst health and social care professionals, as well as the general public.

Breaking the taboo awareness-raising workshop. Photo: Austrian Red Cross

This project was implemented in collaboration with partners from Austria, France, Finland, Italy, Portugal, Poland and Belgium. The overall objective was to improve the situation of older women living at home by empowering health and social service professionals to recognise abusive situations and to help combat them.

Research on violence against older women shows that violence and other forms of abuse often occur in the immediate family. However, violence against older women in the family is still a taboo and therefore even less visible in society than violence against younger women.

To help break the taboo of this often neglected topic, project partners put together a European research report compiling the results of national reports from each of the seven participating countries. The data included literature overviews, interviews with health and social services staff on their experiences, and short surveys with health and social service organisations regarding their provisions for dealing with abuse against older women within families.

The research concluded that many health and social service providers do not possess adequate organisational procedures to approach violence against older women.  In fact, in many cases staff members were not trained in recognising different forms of abusiveness, including financial, psychological or sexual abuse. Generally, little guidance had been given as to how take action to prove and stop these types of assault.

Between October 2008 and January 2009, the Austrian Red Cross and its partner organisations held 12 awareness-raising workshops with 158 staff members and managers of community health and social service organisations in Austria, Finland, Portugal and Italy. During interactive sessions, participants carried out role plays and worked on case studies to improve their preparedness to deal with violence against older women. Participants discussed guidelines to help identify signs of emotional abuse, such as ways to spot sudden changes in the alertness or appetite of their clients. Through peer-to-peer learning, they gained insight into strategies for overcoming the difficulties associated with reporting abuse, learning about communicating and building trust with the victim. Continuous exchange and mutual support were also encouraged between colleagues in order to cope with the challenging situations often encountered at work.

Project partners produced a brochure containing tools to recognise violence, strategies on how to deal with violence, and country specific information on the legal framework as well as possible organisations to turn to for support. Finally, a number of expert conferences were held to share best practices and increase understanding of the issue across the health and social care sectors in the partner countries and on European level.

Breaking the Taboo II

To extend the impact of this work, the Austrian Red Cross ran the second part of the project - Breaking the Taboo II - from December 2009 to December 2011. It built on the first project by developing an extensive training programme and a trainer handbook for staff members of community-based social and health care services to detect violence against older women within families and react to it independently. By training staff to engage as advisors within community health and social service organisations, the Red Cross also worked to address the lack of information on the abuse of elderly women that is available to many professionals. A training CD rom was produced including 9 different modules that can also be used individually and added to different training programmes.

The project "Breaking the taboo – Empowering health and social service professionals to combat violence against older women within families” was funded within the European Commission’s DG Justice, Freedom and Security DAPHNE II – Programme.

Read the Breaking the Taboo I
Download Brochure.

The Breaking the Taboo II training CD-rom in English can be ordered from:

Visit the project website.

Basic information

Activity name

Breaking the Taboo




Phase I 2007-2009
Phase II 2009-2011


Austrian Red Cross, Bulgarian Red Cross, CESIS - Centro de Estudos para a Intervenção Social, Forschungsinstitut des Roten Kreuzes, LACHESIS, Flemish Reporting Point for Elder Abuse, Department of Medical Sociology and Health Economics at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Faculty of Health Sciences University of Maribor, ISIS - Institut für Szoial Infrastruktur. Associate partners: AGE Platform Europe, Red Cross EU Office


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