The sexual abuse of older women in nursing homes

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The sexual abuse of older women in nursing homes

The authors of this article - Joseph Ibrahim, Daisy Smith and Lyndal Bugeja – focus their attention on the sexual abuse of older women in nursing homes. According to the authors, sexual assault occurs in many settings and circumstances, including in nursing homes.

Research published in the journal Legal Medicine analysed 28 forensic medical examinations of female nursing home residents who had allegedly been victims of sexual assault in Victoria over a 15-year period. The majority of the alleged victims had some form of cognitive or physical impairment. All 14 perpetrators who were reported were male, half of whom were staff and half other residents. The majority of case reports didn’t indicate whether the alleged victim had received treatment for the assault.

The researchers argue that Information gaps highlight the difficulty of examination which is essential to a detailed investigation. A better understanding of the context and setting of the assault, which is usually available when younger women are victims, is essential to inform prevention efforts.

The researchers write that ‘eliminating sexual assault in nursing homes is a major challenge which starts with acknowledging it exists and recognising the scale of this abuse. Currently, sexual assault is considered the most hidden, as well as least acknowledged and reported, form of elder abuse. This makes it difficult to accurately estimate its prevalence.’ The researchers add that ‘Sexual assault, in any setting or age group, is one of the most difficult crimes to prosecute due to the required elements of intent and lack of consent. But this is made all the more complicated when it comes to nursing home residents.’

Staff, it is argued in the article, must be aware of the existence of sexual assault in nursing homes: ‘It is their duty as care providers to report alleged or suspected sexual assault in a timely manner. More education, training and research is needed to address the knowledge gaps around incidence, levels of reporting, nature of investigations, responses required to better assist the victim, and the interventions needed to prevent sexual assault.’

It’s hard to think about, but frail older women in nursing homes get sexually abused too