Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Norma’s Project: A Research Study into the Sexual Assault of Older Women in Australia

Excerpts from Norma's Project:  A Research Study into the Sexual Assault of Older Women in Australia, June 2014 (Authors Rosemary Mann, Philomena Horsley, Catherine Barrett, Jean Tinney):

The idea of older women as victims of sexual assault is relatively recent and little understood. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that, despite the silence that surrounds the topic, such assaults occur in many settings and circumstances. The lack of community awareness can be partly attributed to commonly held assumptions that older women are asexual. How, then, can they be the target of sexual assault? What is unimaginable and unacceptable becomes unsayable or invisible.

* In Australia in 2011, there were 3.08 million people aged 65 years and over. There are higher proportions of older women than men over 65 years, with significantly more females than males aged 80 years and over (ABS 2012).

The overwhelming majority of older people live in private dwellings in the community – only 6% live in non-private dwellings, which include aged care homes and hospitals. Among those aged 85 years and over, 74% live in private dwellings (AIHW 2007).

Over 50% of women aged 65 years and over need some form of assistance to help them stay at home.
Among those receiving assistance, 83% received help from informal providers (including family and friends), and 64% received help from formal
providers (including government organisations as well as private for-profit and private not-for-profit agencies) (AIHW 2007).

Around two-thirds of permanent residents in aged care facilities are women (AIHW 2007).

However, it is widely accepted that around one in five women (17% – 21%) over the age of 18 years have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 (ABS
2013, 2006; de Visser et al. 2003, 2007). This rate has not changed over the past six years (ABS 2013).

In 2012, an estimated one percent (87,000) of adult women had experienced some form of sexual assault in the previous 12 months, excluding unwanted sexual touching (ABS 2013).

Women over the age of 45 years represented nearly 1 in 5 of this group (ABS 2006).

In the vast majority of cases (88%), the perpetrator was known to the victim (ABS 2013).

All Government-subsidised aged care homes must report to the police and to the Department of Health and Ageing within 24 hours of receiving an allegation or suspicion of 'unlawful sexual contact' or 'unreasonable use of force'. In the last 12 months there has been a 14% increase in reports of alleged physical and sexual assaults: 349 reports of unlawful sexual contact and 29 reports of unlawful sexual contact and 'unreasonable force' (Commonwealth of Australia 2013). In both Australia and New Zealand, surveys of aged care managers have identified cases of sexual assault of residents (Sadler 2009; Weatherall 2001).

* The available research in relation to the sexual assault of older women suggests that:

offenders are primarily men, although women should not be excluded as potential offenders, particularly in residential aged care settings (Ramsey-Klawsnik et al. 2008; Holt 1993)

male offenders range in age from teenage males to elderly men (Jeary 2005)

a significant minority of convicted male offenders also have previous convictions for assaults against children and younger women (Lea et al. 2010; Del Bove et al. 2005).

* Research on the impacts on older women of recent experiences of sexual assault (or other forms of violence) as an older woman is far more limited. Some researchers characterise service providers' 'lack of sensitivity … to the gravity of the assaults' as striking (Burgess et al. 2000, p.14), while other researchers attest to the 'long-term, life-changing effects' on elderly victims despite efforts to put the trauma behind them (Jeary 2005, p.335)

Medical literature indicates that older women who experience sexual assault are more prone to trauma and injury to the genital tract, compared to younger women (Muram et al. 1992; Ramin 1997; Jones et al. 2009; Templeton 2005; Morgan et al. 2011) and more likely to be admitted to hospital (Eckhert and Sugar 2008).
Importantly, experiences of sexual assault can also result in a decrease in both the quality and the length of older women's lives. For instance, one case analysis of 20 older people who were sexually assaulted, most of whom were over 70, indicated that over ½ died within a year of the assault (Burgess et al. 2000).

The full report can be read here.

Some 2014 media reports of sexual and/or physical assaults on older women

The Daily Telegraph 30 January 2014:

AN elderly woman has been sexually assaulted after answering a knock on her door of her unit on the NSW far north coast.
Police said about 8pm (AEDT) on Wednesday the 75-year-old opened the door of her Kingscliff unit to a man who forced his way in and sexually assaulted her before fleeing.

A registered nurse faces prosecution by health authorities after he allegedly sexually assaulted an 89-year-old patient inside a Sydney public hospital.
The man will appear before a Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) tribunal after an elderly lady complained he entered her bed space, woke her up and inappropriately touched her in the Emergency Short Stay Ward at Nepean Hospital, in July 2012.
It is understood the HCCC will also analyse the role of senior staff who several months previously, chose to handle internally - and dismiss - a carbon copy complaint from another elderly woman relating to the same nurse.
NSW Police confirmed that three days after the second alleged incident took place, Nepean Hospital alerted them to ''an allegation of sexual assault''.
On Friday, the patient's two daughters confirmed a decision was made not to press charges because it would have been too traumatic for their mother, who has since passed away in February. 12 May 2014:

A 57-year-old former Blue Mountains nursing home worker has been charged with six counts of indecent assault in nursing homes. He was fired after the facility management received complaints from seven elderly women between 2011 and 2014.
The Daily Telegraph reported that seven elderly women had complained about the man for offences that allegedly took place between 2011 and 2014.
He was given strict bail conditions and ordered to appear before Katoomba local court.
Within a month of the Blue Mountains worker being charged, a Wollongong man was jailed for sexually abusing a vulnerable and disabled patient at a nursing home. The woman was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and a stroke, which left her speechless and with very limited movement, requiring 24 hour care.

The Courier Mail 13 May 2014:

A COMMUNITY in Mackay is reeling after the callous sexual assault of an elderly woman on her property.
The Courier-Mail understands the 80-year-old lady – who lives alone – was attacked after she had been walking her dog.
A source close to the victim said her friend had just been for a walk to the local shops before the incident occurred.
Reports suggest a man approached her in the front yard of her Finch St property about 7pm and asked for directions to Lamberts Beach.
Police said he then forced the woman into the backyard where the sexual assault took place.
The assailant then fled the scene on foot.

A 46-year-old nurse will appear in court on Tuesday in relation to the deaths of two elderly women and an assault on a third at a Ballina nursing home.
Victorian police arrested the woman in Seaspray, Victoria, 240 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, about 11am on Monday, with warrants issued last week by the NSW Police Force’s Homicide Squad.
The woman had been employed as a nurse at the St Andrew's Village nursing home in Ballina.


The Daily Telegraph 9 June 2014:

A registered nurse accused of killing two elderly patients and assaulting another was investigated for similar offences in 2008.

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