Resources for Older Adult Survivors of Sexual Violence

Jul 02nd, 2021

By Arianna Sessoms

For many people across the globe, sexual violence is a taboo topic, not openly discussed or even taken seriously. When it is talked about, it is often perceived as a form of violence that only affects young women and girls. In fact, anyone can be victimized by sexual violence, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation or age. A population that is vulnerable to sexual violence but often left out of the narrative are older adults. Elder abuse or abuse later in life often refers to abuse committed against someone over the age of 60. Some other adults also fall into the category of vulnerable adults. In Maryland, a vulnerable adult is defined as an individual aged 18 years or older who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for their daily needs (Adult Protective Services). When discussing sexual violence prevention, awareness, and response, it is crucial to acknowledge the intersections of age and disability along with the intersections of ageism and ableism that can lead to an older adult experiencing sexual violence and not receiving appropriate care, resources, or justice afterward. 

Much like sexual violence against other age populations, older adults are more likely to experience sexual violence by someone they know. Their abuser may be their partner or spouse, a family member or friend, an in-home caregiver, a worker in a care facility or another individual in the care facility. Reports suggest that the most common perpetrators of sexual assault against older adults are spouses and partners or staff and other residents in care facilities (Across the Lifespan). Individuals who commit sexual abuse are often those who have more power and authority over the victim, and who use that privilege to manipulate, control, and abuse the victim, as well as others around the victim.

Di Macleod and Kerrin Bradfield (2018) created an Elder Sexual Abuse Power and Control Wheel to shed light on the unique forms of sexual violence that older adults may experience. Examples of sexual abuse against older adults include:

  • Intentional and unnecessary focus on breasts and genitalia during cleaning, examinations, treatment, and procedures not required for health or hygiene reasons.
  • Threatened, forced, coerced, tricked, or manipulated to sexually touch another person or watch them touch themselves.
  • Pressured into watching pornography and groomed to enact behaviors.
  • Photographing or filming breasts and genitals and threatening to sharing images.
  • Engaging in sexual acts with someone who is unable to consent due to lack of cognitive capacity or dementia.
  • Intentionally leaving a person undressed or with breasts and genitals exposed.
  • Using sexually degrading language and making sexual comments.
  • Using bribes, gifts, or withholding access to family, friends, finances, or care for compliance to sexual activity.
  • When a spouse or partner expects sex on demand.
  • Continuation of domestic violence in later life.
  • Choking or strangling someone into submission.
  • Threatened, forced, coerced, tricked, or manipulated into any sexual activity that feels degrading, humiliating or painful.
  • Creating a climate of confusion and self-doubt and exploiting vulnerabilities to gain sexual access.
  • Fracturing supportive relationships to maximize secrecy and minimize the risk of disclosure of sexual abuse.
  • Using financial abuse to distract attention from other co-occurring forms of abuse including sexual abuse.
  • “Giving in” to unwanted sexual activity due to fear of consequences such as physical violence.

Sexual abuse is an underreported crime, but older survivors of sexual abuse are less likely to report than younger survivors (Burgess, n.d.). If you believe a vulnerable adult is being sexually abused, you can file a report with Adult Protective Services. If an older adult discloses to you that they are being sexually abused, listen to them, believe them, and support them in getting the help they want. You can find more information about the Rape Crisis and Recovery Center in your community here.

Beginning in January 2021, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault partnered with the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence and the Charles E. Smith Life Communities’ ElderSAFE Center to host a three-part series of webinars on intimate partner violence against older adults. These training sessions featured speakers from across Maryland and national experts, including the Family Justice Center, Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project, the DC Rape Crisis Center, Adventist Health Care, Revitalizing Inner Self Essence, and the Confidentiality Institute.  In conjunction with this series, MCASA created a toolkit on Older Adult Sexual Violence, which can be found here.

It is important to support older adults who are experiencing sexual abuse, as well as older adults who have a history of sexual trauma. The recent #MeToo Movement, where survivors of sexual harassment and abuse publicly shared their experience by saying “me too,” saw an increase in older adults disclosing and reporting the sexual abuse they had experienced in their life (Alaggia & Wang, 2020). In addition to social media empowering adults who delayed reporting to disclose experiences of abuse, it is also common for male survivors of sexual abuse to wait 20 years after the abuse to share what happened to them (Easton, 2013). It is never too late to receive support and healing for trauma from past or present abuse. It is on all of us to support survivors of abuse, intervene and report when we see something, advocate for changes in policies and procedures of care facilities, and participate in prevention efforts in our communities.

References

Across the Lifespan. (n.d.). NSRVC. Retrieved June, 2021, from
https://www.nsvrc.org/sarts/toolkit/6-9

Adult Protective Services. (n.d.). Maryland Department of Human Services. Retrieved June, 2021, from https://dhs.maryland.gov/office-of-adult-services/adult-protective-services/

Alaggia, R. & Wang, S. (2020). “I never told anyone until the #metoo movement”: What can we learn from sexual abuse and sexual assault disclosures made through social media? Child Abuse & Neglect, 103. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.104312.

Burgess, A. (n.d.). Elder Sexual Assault Technical Assistance Manual. Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Retrieved June, 2021, from https://pcar.org/resource/elder-sexual-assault-technical-assistance-manual

Easton, S. D. (2013). Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse Among Adult Male Survivors. Clinical Social Work Journal, 41(4), 344–355. DOI:10.1007/s10615-012-0420-3. Retrieved June, 2021, from

Macleod, D. & Bradfield, K. (2018). ELSA Power & Control Wheel. Gold Coast Centre against sexual violence. Retrieved June, 2021, from http://www.stopsexualviolence.com/resources

 

References

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