Sexual assaults against women over 60: it’s more common than you might think… 216



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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.

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?

Sandi Scaunich

Sandi Scaunich is a Health Promotion Officer specialising in sexual and reproductive health. Sandi works at Women’s Health in the South East which is the regional women’s health service for the Southern Metropolitan Region of Melbourne. She has three tertiary qualifications, including a Master of Social Health (Medical Anthropology) from the University of Melbourne. Sandi formally worked in the community, local and state government health sectors, and has also taught health and sociology subjects at Melbourne, Swinburne and Deakin Universities. Sandi has three young children – two boys and a girl – who keep her very busy outside of work! And she admits to being addicted to scrabble...

  1. No-one regardless of age or gender deserves to be assaulted in any way. If you think you are being assaulted – tell someone and keep telling until someone does something.

  2. I get verbally and sexally harassed by my neighbour in our complex no one will do anything not even the landlord or police im at my wits end dop

    15 REPLY
    • Phyllis, you need to go to another police station then or get someone you know, a family member perhaps to help you report it and believe you.

    • Please Phylis let a family member or a friend or perhaps a helpline know…keep telling someone because if u stay quiet it will keep happening. You have a right to b safe.

    • Pls go to your doctor, they might b able to help. I’m so very sorry Phyllis. Another thought,do you belong to a religion? If you do they could come with you to the police but pls allow a man to help you,I’ve noticed that if I talk to the police,most don’t listen but do to my son, maybe a friends son?

    • I noticed on your Facebook profile that it says you are married, couldn’t you husband go with you to the police to support your fears.

    • What a tragedy that these vile acts are even perpetrated against our oldest citizens – it’s heart breaking. I am aware that another often un-reported area is the sexual abuse of disabled citizens and this is also terribly distressing.

    • Tragic that you feel so helpless and unsupported. Is their a women’s advocacy group in you locality, or MP that would take this up on your behalf. A Seniors Group? I so feel for you. As women we can offer fight for our children and others, yet find it difficult to fight for ourselves, and quite often just dont have the energy left to fend for ourselves.

    • Go to the police. Try and be strong. Tell them if they refuse to investigate you will seek legal advice to sue them for their inaction. Or tell them you will go to the media. They don’t want notariaty.
      All police departments have a sexual assult branch. Insist on seeing them.
      You have to try and be strong and get this matter sorted.
      Good luck.

  3. yea cause there is sum very sick fuks out there in the world 2day and sending then 2 jail is tooo gd one bullet to the head will fix it thats my opinion okaay or reinterduce them to the hand mincer

  4. What a sad world we live in. The fact that so much of this goes unreported because the victims fear the stigma attached to this is blight on us and our community. It is not them who should feel ashamed it is us. No abuse, sexual or otherwise is acceptable, ever!

  5. Thankyou for the story…no matter what age we go through this, the shame and guilt is the thing that stops us from telling. Imagine how terrible it would be for a woman who has been abused as a child, then goes through it all again in her later years. And whether it is deserved or not, it happens…very sad. Yes, we must overcome our fears and speak up.

    2 REPLY
    • Not with that meaning Jane…you are right…wasn’t thinking straight I reckon!!!! Got chemo brain…well, that will be my excuse today….;-)

  6. It’s so sad and shameful that a person can get to this stage of life and be subjected to such disgusting treatment, even more of a pity that some of them are too ashamed to seek assistance.

  7. This doesn’t surprise me. I lived overseas for many years and worked as a counsellor for Life Line. The first time I had a call from someone about this the lady was 83 years old and in her own home. I was in my 30’s and had never come across this previously. Fortunately we were able to organise a safe place and treatment for her fairly promptly, because that was what Life Line did.

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