Elder sexual abuse is defined as non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly person. Sexual contact with any person incapable of giving consent is also considered sexual abuse. It includes, but is not limited to, unwanted touching, all types of sexual assault or battery, such as rape, sodomy, coerced nudity, and sexually explicit photographing.
Signs and symptoms of sexual abuse include but are not limited to:
•bruises around the breasts or genital area
•unexplained venereal disease or genital infections
•unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding;
•torn, stained, or bloody underclothing; and
•an elder's report of being sexually assaulted or raped
What is elder sexual assault?
Elder sexual assault occurs when a person over the age of 60 is forced, tricked, coerced, or manipulated into ANY unwanted sexual contact. It also includes sexual contact with anyone who is unable to give informed consent. Unfortunately, some older persons are a prime target due to their decreased functioning and/or reliance on caretakers, which makes them less likely to report, fight back, or be believed.
Sexual abuse is believed to be the least reported of all victimizations against the elderly. Only 30% of people age 65 or older who are victimized report the sexual assault to the police.
Who sexually assaults older adults?
Unfortunately, in cases of elder sexual assault, an offender is often someone who is well-known to the victim—someone the victim trusts or depends on.
Older adult sexual assault perpetrators can include:
•Caregivers: aides, nurses, volunteers, etc. They may take advantage of their positions of authority to gain access to victims
•Adult children: predominantly male family members such as sons, grandsons, and nephews
•Spouses/partners - older individuals may believe that rape cannot happen within the vows of marriage.
•Fellow facility residents: others living in the same assisted living facility, nursing home, or apartment complex.
In 1/3 of cases, acts of sexual abuse toward elders were witnessed by others.
Risk factors for older adults
Physical weakness and frailty make older adults more vulnerable.
Some older adults have declining cognitive function making it difficult to communicate the details of an assault.
Dependence on others for a daily living makes it impossible for some older adults to leave an uncomfortable situation.
How is elder sexual assault different?
Older victims of sexual assault are at a much higher risk for the following injuries:
•Increased vaginal tearing
•Soft tissue or bone injury
Older adults may also experience these long-term effects:
•Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
•Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) (due to lack of treatment)
•Exacerbation of existing illnesses
•Sleep disturbances such as insomnia
•Longer recovery times
What are the signs?
Because older adults may be unable to communicate verbally or express details of an assault, it is sometimes up to friends, caregivers, and family members to recognize the signs of sexual abuse. Please understand that not all of the symptoms listed below will always point to sexual assault; however, a combination of these over a period of time, or a sudden appearance of one or more, may strongly indicate abuse.
•Bruising on inner thighs
•Difficulty in walking or standing
•Pain or itching in genital areas
•Sudden exacerbation of existing illnesses
•Frequent physical problems such as headaches, allergies, or stomach problems
•Depression or anxiety
•Withdrawal or fearfulness
•Increased anger or hostility