The sexual abuse of older people is a subject that is rarely discussed, but is nevertheless a reality. In some cases it is the result of opportunism (e.g. a careworker seeing a chance to assault a dependent person), in some cases it is planned (e.g. someone targeting a sheltered or residential home because they contain older people), in some cases it is the continuation of domestic violence into old age, and in some cases it is associated with an incestuous relationship. There are also reported cases of older women from minority communities being targeted because of their ethnic origins.
One of the challenges of elder sexual abuse is that, because it is often denied, the opportunity to protect forensic evidence can be lost by the kindness of others who desire to make the older person comfortable instead of calling the police. It is important to establish the basic principle that sexual abuse is a crime, regardless of the age of a victim.
Very often the behaviour of an older person, even if they have confusion, will tell you that something is wrong. Having dementia does not always mean that someone cannot communicate, and it is possible that they can make their feelings known to you if you take the time to listen, observe and take notice. It is the capacity to believe that elder sexual abuse is possible, without seeing it everywhere, which will increase the potential to detect and respond to it when it happens.
In 2011 we had two stark reminders of the reality of elder sexual abuse; one being the case of Delroy Grant, dubbed the Nightstalker, who was convicted of 18 separate incidents at homes in Bromley, Beckenham, Orpington, Forest Hill and Croydon between 1992 and 2009. And the second being the case of 17 year old Maxwell Laycock who, on Christmas Day 2010, raped an 86-year-old resident of the care home in which he worked as a kitchen assistant.
What are the signs of sexual abuse?
Very often the behaviour of an older person, even if they have confusion, will tell you that something is wrong. Even with dementia, people can often make their feelings known if you take the time to listen, observe and take notice. It is the capacity to believe that elder sexual abuse is possible, without seeing it everywhere, that will increase the potential to detect and respond to it when it happens.
Just 2% of the calls to our helpline relate to sexual abuse. This is certainly an under-representation, taking all that we know about elder abuse in general and about sexual abuse in its widest sense.
Some of the physical signs to watch for are:
- Bruises around the breasts or genital area
- Unexplained venereal disease or genital infections
- Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding
- Difficulty in walking or standing
- Marked changes in behaviour
- Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
- An older person telling you they have been sexually assaulted or raped
If you suspect sexual abuse
If you suspect sexual abuse do NOT wash the older person or their clothing. Do NOT let time drift by while you think about your course of action. Call the police/gardai immediately as they are the experts and will have the skills, expertise and equipment to appropriately and sensitively respond.