Media summary - sexual assault
To help journalists reporting on sexual assault of older women we have pulled together a summary of the facts. More detail on all the information summarised below is included in the Power Project webpages and links are provided. If you need more information please call Dr Catherine Barrett on 0429 582 237.
In residential aged care
- In residential aged care, data on 'unlawful sexual contact' is published annually in the Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act. This data is generated by compulsory reporting and does not reflect the total number of sexual assaults - aged care providers currently don't have to report sexual assault perpetrated by a person with cognitive impairment
- The 2019-2020 report on the Operation of the Aged Care Acts notes (page 90): In 2019–20, 5,718 notifications in relation to assaults were reported under the Act. Of those 4,867 were recorded as alleged or suspected unreasonable use of force, 816 as alleged or suspected unlawful sexual contact, and 35 as both
- In residential aged care services a Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) will commence from 1 April, 2021. The SIRS will be administered by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and will set new arrangements for providers of residential aged care to manage and take reasonable steps to prevent incidents, with a focus on the safety, health, well-being and quality of life of aged care consumers. So ... all incidents of 'unlawful sexual contact' will be reported ... but maybe not, see point 7 below
- KPMG was engaged by the Department of Health to conduct research into the prevalence of serious incidents in residential aged care. The Prevalence Study for a Serious Incident Report Scheme reviewed 178 residential aged care homes and identified an estimate of 1730 incidents of sexual assault nationally
- The Royal Commission into Quality and Safety in Aged Care's Final Report 2021 (p. 150) noted that: the estimated number of alleged incidents of unlawful sexual contact in 2018-19 could be as high as 2520, or almost 50 per week. This is a disgrace and should be a source of national shame.
- The Royal Commission's recommendations do not include any explicit strategies for sexual assault
- The KPMG report noted that most staff said the sexual assault had no impact on the victim and they have recommended that the SIRS focuses on incidents where there are negative impacts eg: staff were asked to rate the impact of the incidents on residents and 58% said the sexual assault had no impact on the victim (page 34) and the KPMG report recommended two options for reporting of incidents: Option 2.4: Report Type 1 incidents (resident to resident assault) of a ‘higher’ level of impact only (2.4) or Report all Type 1 unlawful sexual contact and all Type 1 unreasonable use of force associated with a higher level of impact only (2.6) (page 6) - so - this may mean that sexual assault is not reported because it is perceived by staff to not have a negative impact
- The fact that 58% of staff say there is no impact from sexual assault is at odds with international literature that demonstrates a broad range of adverse impacts ... and that a significant number of older women die within a year of sexual assault.
There is a current focus on sexual assault in residential aged care - however it is important to note that the rates of sexual assault is likely to be even higher at home. Here are some key points:
- Older women are sexually assaulted in their own homes by intimate partners and other family members and by service providers
- Risk factors for sexual assault at home are common to women more broadly (eg: isolation, dependence etc) and also include a number of unique factors including dementia. Older women are vulnerable to sexual assault by intimate partners with dementia who are sexually disinhibited or hypersexual. Older women with dementia may also be targeted by perpetrators who know they will not be heard
- Marital rape immunity laws means that many older heterosexual couples have spent most of their married life is a dynamic where sexual consent was not required! Some older men may still 'assert their conjugal rights' and some older women may not use the term 'sexual assault' to describe that they are experiencing
- The violence in some older couples is referred to as 'family violence grown old'
- We are not opening up conversations with older women about sexual assault - we are not giving them permission to speak about their experiences
- Norma's Project documented an evidence base on sexual assault and found around half the reports related to sexual assault at home
- Aged care service providers are so powerfully placed to prevent sexual assault in the home - if they understand what to look for, how to listen and how to respond.
If you would like more information on sexual assault of older women please contact the Power Project coordinator Dr Catherine Barrett on 0429 582 237 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org