Sexual Abuse of the Elderly
The sexual abuse of elders is poorly understood and under-researched.
The elderly victims of sexual abuse often have medical problems that result in difficulties communicating, confusion, or memory loss — all of which interfere with the ability of the elder to report the abuse.
Sexual abuse against the elderly is a part of the overall maltreatment of the elderly. There are several forms of sexual abuse, just as there are several forms of other forms of abuse perpetrated against the elderly. Emotional and physical abuse can accompany other forms of abuse, such as sexual abuse.
Elder sexual abuse is defined as an action against an elder that is unwanted and sexual in origin. It usually involves those older than 60 years of age.
Elder sexual abuse includes any sexual contact with an elder who, because of mental illness or dementia, cannot communicate their disapproval of the behavior against them or cannot communicate consent for the activity.
Studies of Sexual Abuse
There have been research studies conducted by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) where it was found that the oldest victims are less likely to aid in the conviction of an adult sexual offender who perpetrated the crime against them.
The same research indicated that victims of elder sexual abuse are less likely to have someone believe them, especially if there have been no signs of trauma to the body. Those elderly sexual abuse victims who reside in a nursing facility were the least able to get a conviction out of the acts perpetrated against them.
The Offenders of Elder Sexual Abuse
There is little research available on the subject of elder sexual abuse and those who perpetrate the abuse. The studies are complicated by the mere fact that many victims of elder sexual abuse cannot communicate well enough to identify what happened or who their perpetrator was.
Common perpetrators of elder sexual abuse include friends, live-in nursing aids, nursing home assistants, family members and other types of care providers that are left alone to care for the elderly individual.
The Main Locations of Elder Sexual Abuse
In a study published in the Journal of Abuse, about 12 percent of elderly sexual abuse victims sustained their assault within their places of residence. About 15 percent of elders who are sexually abused suffered their assault in the home of the sex offender.
Evidence of Sexual Abuse against the Elderly
The typical signs and indicators of sexual abuse against the elderly can be either behavioral or physical. They include the following:
- Sustaining a pelvic injury
- Having problems walking or sitting
- Developing a sexually transmitted disease or STD
- Torn, bloody or stained underwear
- Bruises of the genitals or inner thigh
- Bleeding from the anus or genitals
- Irritation or pain of the anus or genitals
- Panic attacks
- Signs of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Symptoms of agitation
- Social or emotional withdrawal from others
- Engaging in inappropriate, unusual or aggressive sexual activities
- Suicide attempts
- Engaging in unusual or inappropriate actions that appear to be from a sex role relationship between the perpetrator of elder sexual abuse and the victim
Statistics on Elder Sexual Abuse
According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), one of the more active coalitions in the evaluation of all types of sexual abuse, elder sexual abuse is not uncommon. PCAR offers fifty rape crisis centers throughout the state of Pennsylvania. This organization helps educate the public on elder sexual abuse by conducting some of the most detailed research studies in the US on the issue of elderly sexual abuse.
The research undertaken by the PCAR has indicated that elder sexual abuse follows these statistics:
- Women are 6 times more likely to be victims of elder sexual abuse.
- Only about 30 percent of elderly victims of sexual abuse over the age of 65 years actually report the abuse to the authorities.
- About 83 percent of victims of elder sexual abuse reside in an institutional care center, such as a nursing home.
- About 27 percent of victims of elder sexual abuse occurred in either the elder’s own home or in the perpetrators home.
- About 80 percent of the time, the perpetrator of elder sexual abuse was the caregiver to the elder.
- About 76 percent of elder sexual abuse victims have had their incident witnessed by another.
- About 67 percent of elder sexual abusers were members of the family, according to the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study.
Preventing and Reporting Nursing Home Sexual Abuse
If it is suspected that elder sexual abuse has taken place, family members or other nursing home staff should report the incident to authorities, or to Adult Protective Services so that it can be investigated further.
As is the case with emotional abuse of elders, the victim of elder sexual abuse will be given a government-assigned caregiver who is in charge of investigating the incident. This caregiver will talk to the elderly person to ascertain what happened at the time of the incident. They will also ask questions regarding the mental stability, current living circumstances and the relationships in the elderly person’s life.
If the case of elder sexual abuse is strong suspected, the resident will be moved to another healthcare environment. They may also be treated with sexual abuse counseling or medications.