Lessons to be learned from a 98-year-old woman’s shocking tale of survival and extraordinary courage

Miss Mae’s* living situation was abusive but no one could have foreseen the horrific eruption of violence she woud have to endure on night out of the blue.  It was the longest night of her life.

Years before the evening in question took place, the diminutive woman had lived with her son and his wife, but now in her late 90s, her son was 70 and his own health no longer allowed him to care for his mother. Miss Mae reluctantly moved to a nursing home, where she was miserable. Although she needed help with certain chores and with her oxygen tank, she was still a very capable woman and she just wanted to be home.

When her grandson Robert and his wife Jocelyn asked her to move in with them, she was thrilled to be able to leave the nursing home. As the years passed, Mae slowly became the household servant.  Her grand-daughter in ordered her to do all of the housework and cook all the meals. Soon after that, they also started using Mae’s pension to pay the mortgage, promising to repay her, but blowing their own money on alcohol when it came. When Mae gave them money and asked that they make purchase groceries and or meds for her, they took the money but never brought her the items she requested. They also robbed her of the funds she had given them to pay for her burial policy.

Financial abuse is often the harbinger of even more egregious abuse. Although Robert had no history of violence towards either his wife or his grandmother, one horrifying night, apparently out of the blue, everything changed. Power is a potent drug to some abusers, and once they’ve had a taste, they want more…  An advocate with the Sexual Assault Agency who has worked with Mae says that as the abuser seeks to gain more command over the elder’s assets, “that’s where you start seeing physical violence, sexual violence, things escalate. Family violence against elders IS domestic violence and the power and control issues are always there.”

While his wife Jocelyn was in the hospital one evening, Robert came home severely intoxicated and attacked his grandmother. The physical and sexual assault lasted from 6pm in the evening to 2am the following morning. Throughout the ordeal, Miss Mae showed enormous strength and courage, trying to escape repeatedly and to distract her assailant by saying there was someone at the door, or by saying she had to use the bathroom, for instance. Despite the fact that her these attempts were rebuked and that she endured rape, beatings and being told that she would be murdered before sunrise, she did not give up hope.

When her grandson eventually collapsed and passed out drunk, she managed to pull her small frame from beneath him and to call the police.  Miss Mae has breathing difficulties and dispatch could hardly understand her, but she persisted in seeking help.

In the aftermath of the attack, things did not go smoothly for Miss Mae. A Sexual Assault Agency advocate who worked with Mae said: “she had so many bruises on her, I’d never seen someone with that many bruises before… All down her arms and legs and she was covered in gauze.   It was really hard to walk in there and see her.”

Despite the overwhelming evidence that indicated she was telling the truth, her family ostracized her and refused to believe her story. She was admitted to the nursing home under the name “Jane Doe” for safety reasons. Most of the staff called her “JD,” so in addition to losing her home and most of her possessions as a result of the assault, Miss Mae also lost her name. Her only social interactions were with staff and residents of the nursing home and the advocates she met after the assault.

The prosecutor was very concerned that other family members would come to the Long Term Care facility and either convince Miss Mae not to testify, or that she had these horrible events were the product of a demented mind. During the trial, which lasted an incredibly long eight days, investigators from the State Attorney’s Office deliberately stood back 15-20 feet, with the intent of making Mae look incompetent, as if she were not a good witness.   Her credibility was assailed left, right and centre.  The people who stood with her were strangers who had come to her aid after the attack, while her entire family, son included stood on the other side of court-room in a show of support for Robert.

It cost Mae almost everything, but in the end, she made him pay. Robert was convicted of sexual battery and aggravated assault, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He must serve 32 years (80%) without parole. The fact that this sentence is considerably more punitive than one might expect, given the charges, reflects the unthinkably cruel nature of his crimes against such a vulnerable person who was supposed to be in his charge. This woman is a model of courage and resilience.

* Name has been changed

Please Click here to Read the Follow up to Ms. Mae’s story, the anatomy of an intervention – it breaks down what happened during prosecution and details the role of the various parties involved.  The story sheds light on the reasons experts believe that elder abuse, particularly sexual, goes widely unreported.