Sexual assaults against women over 60: it’s more common than you might think...

Most of us assume that sexual assault only happens to women of reproductive age. And this assumption is right… to a point. Unfortunately, many young girls experience sexual assault. But an attack on an 83 year old woman in a nursing home? The rape of a 92 year old woman in her home? Such images probably don’t first jump to mind… Yet these assaults happened, and were documented in a research report undertaken by Dr Catherine Barrett and colleagues at La Trobe University entitled Norma’s Project.

Sadly, the research uncovered many similar stories and highlighted that women over the age of 60 often suffer in silence. The rate of sexual assaults is unknown as many cases go unreported, mostly because women over 60 feel ashamed to speak up. They may also be asking: Who can I tell? Where do I go to seek support? And, will my story be believed?

For Norma, whose story was the catalyst for the research, coming forward and telling her story was difficult. One day, on return home from a respite stay, Norma was very angry and distressed. She told her daughter that she had been sexually assaulted by a staff member at the aged care facility. The police and the facility were notified, the complaint was investigated and the perpetrator identified. However, due to the absence of physical evidence, the lack of witnesses and Norma’s diagnosis of dementia, no further action was recommended or taken by the police. After this incident, Norma’s health deteriorated and she no longer felt safe at home.

Fortunately, Norma eventually moved into permanent care at a local aged care facility where she has been wonderfully looked after by a dedicated team of staff. Norma’s dementia is worsening and her health is declining, but she remains happy, loved and safe.

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At this point you may be asking how can women over 60 be the target of sexual assault?

Before answering this question, it’s important to first clarify what is meant by sexual assault. Put simply, it refers to any kind of unwanted sexual behaviour or activity that makes a person feel uncomfortable, frightened or threatened. It might include any of the following unwanted or forced sexual behaviours:

  • Touching, fondling, or fingering sexual parts
  • Oral, anal or vaginal sex, including penetration involving objects other than a penis

To answer how this unacceptable act of violence occurs within the over 60 community, Norma’s Project tells us four important things about sexual violence that everyone should know. Firstly, it’s primarily about power and control. Secondly, the perpetrator is often known to the victim. Thirdly, the offenders are mostly men. And lastly, sexual assaults can happen anywhere.

Age is no barrier to sexual assault, and offenders may actually target women who are vulnerable due to health problems and/or live alone.

For further information call the Australian National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Help Line on 1800 Respect (1800 737 732).
Are you or someone you know a victim of sexual assault in your 60s? What was done when it was reported? Does there need to be more awareness and help for older women who have experienced this horrible act?