Everyone knows we keep learning till we die. However, some retirees have learned one lesson that was a complete shock, and definitely not in the retirement plans!
It took them by a rare and horrifying surprise to be confronted with the raw rudeness and even habitual hatefulness which seemed to be tradition in a few senior citizen compounds.
I had heard stories from afar for years about some old men–and a few women–who were making threats and hate talk against a gay couple. In addition to their lifestyle differences, the couple being targeted had pointed out some significant financial irregularities at a yearly meeting.
The angry seniors would yell obscenities at them and once even threatened their lives. The couple’s tires had been slashed and their plumbing pipes had been purposely damaged. Yet it somehow wasn’t as real till I spoke with retirees who saw these types of activities with their own eyes!
A First Encounter with Hateful Bullying by a Group of Seniors
Seeing the results of an elderly man pounding on a younger gentleman’s face was the first time it seemed to escalate beyond threats into actual physical violence.
As a teacher of many years I feel a certain deja vu as I hear about these actions unfolding in the stories I was told in confidence by retirees. It reminds me of school bullying. If a child bullies others at school and doesn’t move out of that habit, he or she continues to be a bully later in life. It could surface as prejudice and even be accepted in certain social circles. But who among us could ever be prepared for senior bullies upon retirement!
In this case, it seems the hateful behavior is encouraged by people who’ve known each other for several decades. Some of the perpetrators are snowbirds, but not all. However, their social circle is rather insular and does not include much acceptance of diversity. This provides an atmosphere where their ideas are never challenged and change is soundly rejected with aggressive prejudice.
In fact, anyone who presents a minority or different opinion is quickly shut up–sometimes by being screamed at by one or more–and other times by well-orchestrated acts of intimidation. This causes most residents to keep their thoughts to themselves unless they agree with the in-group since they don’t want to become targets.
Commonalities of Abuse and Bullying
Abuse occurs more easily when privacy is present. It seems the same with this bullying which has been observed over the last several years. Perpetrators prefer a closed area, like a laundry room or mail area, in order to reduce the number of witnesses. The only time this is not true is when the aggressor is with a group of like-minded peers who urge on the bullying with schoolyard-type bravado where they help him team up against their victims.
Some senior bullies don’t particularly see a need to go by the law or observe safety practices. They might even play in traffic, walking in the path of a targeted car, and even in one case, making bike circles in front of the victim’s car to prevent it from pulling in the condo parking lot. These acts may be without clear grasp of the dangers involved, both for them and the others they are trying to irritate, so people around them have to exercise extra caution near them.
The extreme nature of both stalking and harassment not only borders on hate crimes, but could be right out of a twisted sit-com entitled “Seniors Behaving Badly” ! This problem is especially crucial among seniors who do not have family members or other friends to check in with them, giving them a reality check. Their friends of many years may continue to stick by them even as their bullying behavior worsens. Therefore, there is no one to help them put the brakes on such habits as they escalate into violence.
Getting Help for Victims of Senior Bullying
Some older adults have made efforts in the direction of helping victims shine light on the bullying behaviors by extensive planning to avoid being alone in secluded areas. This may involve having a friend along while doing laundry. Using a buddy system like this for being in the parking lot can also be helpful, but it does involve a huge commitment of time and communication for all involved.
However, when that fails to bring adequate relief, there are official governmental entities which can provide redress. Pressing charges with the State Attorney’s Office may be appropriate, particularly when there is one or more police reports along with documentation to provide in establishing a pattern of such behaviors. It may take some convincing evidence since the average law enforcement official has a hard time imagining the extent of this problem in our society.
For those who have technical expertise, taking photos or videos can be instrumental in building a case when needed. Even a dash-cam may help in accumulating documentation. Keeping track of any willing witnesses can contribute further evidence. Even when the witnesses are afraid to go public they may be willing to provide affidavits or confidential information can support a case.
The Need for Involvement of the Greater Community
It may be crucial for some of the fine minds in the interdisciplinary community to get together and help with this vital issue of senior bullying. It is well known that some older seniors develop signs of dementia which may exacerbate the tendencies toward aggressive behavior which may have been previously more in control.
Although it is obvious that the victims need help, the seniors doing the bullying could probably benefit from some involvement of professionals such as social workers, law enforcement officials, etc. Since the population of older adults is dramatically increasing, it is time to give up on silence and starting talking about it!
Friends, caregivers, family members and especially potential victims are living in terror and could use crucial intervention and professional input in developing strategies to deal with these out-of-control behaviors by seniors who should know better.
It is high time to recognize there is such as thing as a senior bully and get about the business of bringing about awareness and action.
Copyright by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.