The NYC Elder Abuse Center at Weill Cornell Medicine is highlighting individuals and organizations that are making advancements in the field of racial equity within the elder justice field. This month, we feature Elizabeth Avent, PhD student at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at University of Southern California.
Liz shared her thoughts on some of the ways racial equity and elder justice intersect in her experience as a researcher, and research she would like to do in the future. See below for some of her written content, a “sneak peek” video interview, and the full video interview!
Elizabeth Avent is a doctoral candidate in the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. She works as a research assistant under Kathleen Wilber and Zach Gassoumis in Secure Old Age Lab and the USC Center on Elder Mistreatment. Her research focuses on abuse over the life course, including late-life intimate partner violence, elder abuse prevention and intervention, the impact of adverse childhood experiences into later life, and improving and developing appropriate services for older victims through community and policy interventions. Currently, her dissertation research aims to differentiate intimate partner violence in late-life from elder mistreatment by spouses and intimate partners and starting to build foundational research conceptualizing IPV in late life to determine best practices for identifying the needs of victims and providing resources tailored to those needs.
What are some practical implications of your research?
One issue is that older victims of abuse are usually categorized as elder abuse, and we tend to view elder abuse in the context of family and professional caregiving. This seems to leave IPV in late life in a category of its own and it seems we don’t know how to identify or conceptualize it or where to place it, as these victims’ experiences may be quite different from victims of elder abuse. As a result, many older women (who are more likely to be victims) experiencing IPV may be inadequately assisted by both Adult Protective Services and domestic violence services. We have to continue to learn about the experiences of older women who are victims of IPV to develop adequate intervention resources and services.
In what ways does your work focus on racial equity?
When thinking about abuse across the life course, we also have to realize that abuse and trauma are not only interpersonal, it is also systemic, particularly for racial and ethnic minorities. It is important to me to take into account the life histories of the people we are studying and the historical and daily abuse and trauma they have experienced due to racial discrimination and violence and how this impacts the abuse they may experience throughout their lives and how abuse is defined.
Have you ever had an experience that reminded you that race matters in elder abuse work? If so, would please share?
Yes, something as simple as language actually matters. I was helping out with a caregiving focus group, and in the Black caregiver focus, some of the caregivers joked about abuse or said certain things that would make someone from the outside think abuse may be happening or there may be a threat of harm, however as a Black person, I automatically did not suspect abuse, it was just conversation and how these people were interacting with each other.