Sexual abuse is one of the most understudied aspects of elder mistreatment. Elderly sexual assault victims were not routinely evaluated to assess the psychological effects of an assault. The older the victim, the less likelihood that the offender would be convicted of sexual abuse. Perpetrators were more likely to be charged with a crime if victims exhibited signs of physical trauma. Sexual offenders are attracted to vulnerability. Perpetrators seek out potential victims who they perceive as easy to overpower and manipulate. They look for those who would be unlikely to report the assault and who would not be deemed credible if the assault were reported.
Older adults are especially vulnerable to sexual violence, and elder sexual assault is one of the most hidden crimes. Unfortunately, while elder sexual assault victims may require more assistance and specialized help, they often receive less services and intervention than younger victims for a number of reasons. Certain factors associated with the aging process put the elder population at heightened risk. In some cases, people of advanced age need others to provide basic necessities and assistance with daily functions. These circumstances increase one’s risk of sexual assault; elders are often victimized by those assisting them or those closest to them. Reduced cognitive or emotional functioning may also render older people more susceptible to sexual assault. Even for well elders, the social stigma of old age make them an easier target for perpetration and more likely to remain silent if victimized.
Victims in assisted living situations faced a lower likelihood than those living independently that charges would be brought and the assailant found guilty. Elder sexual abuse is the initiation of physical or sexual contact with an elderly person, when that contact is nonconsensual or unwanted. This abuse also includes making contact with an elderly person who is confused or unable to give consent. Whether or not the contact is significant or minor, if it is sexual in nature and nonconsensual, it is sexual abuse. Both rape of an elderly person and unwanted touching can count as elderly sexual abuse. Women are traditionally seen as weaker than men and less able to protect themselves. Elderly women are much more likely than elderly men to suffer from sexual abuse. Age is also a factor, and nursing home residents who are older are at greater risk of abuse. There is also a misperceptions
and stereotypes against older adults that has put elders at an increased risk for sexual assault.
One of the most egregious forms of elderly sexual abuse is the sexual abuse committed to patients who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of memory impairment. Because these patients are often confused, the abuser believes that no one will believe their complaints, therefor feeling more confident that they can abuse them without repercussions. Nursing home residents with dementia and other issues are at increased risk of sexual abuse. But this doesn’t mean that it only happens in Nursing homes or other facilities.
The definition or a person’s perception of what rape and/or sexual violence is and how/why it is perpetrated is a reflection of what they have been socialized to believe as well as personal experience. Views about sexual violence have changed dramatically in the last three decades due to the anti-sexual
violence movement and other factors. Advocates have
worked hard to create a society that blames the victim less
and acknowledges the reality of sexual violence as well as the
fact that rapists aren’t always strangers. As mentioned earlier, elders grew up with different generational beliefs about rape and abuse. Child sexual abuse was largely not recognized as a problem, and in many cases, children who disclosed molestation were not believed. In other cases, children were told to ignore and move past the assault. In either case, childhood victims of sexual abuse that are revictimized as elders may be less likely to disclose and may tend to internalize reactions to the recent abuse. In turn, these reactions to abuse can manifest as physical problems, irregular behavior, post-traumatic stress disorder,
substance abuse problems, and depression, as well as a multitude of other life long conditions. On the other hand, due again to the generational factors discussed above, there is a greater likelihood of an elder repressing a prior assault, only to have the affects resurface in later years. Any number of incidents can trigger a reaction to prior sexual abuse—and this list can go on and on because triggers are personal to individuals and the assault. Conditions such as dementia can make an individual more sensitive to triggers and/or bring up recessed memories. In several cases, elders with dementia have disclosed their assault as current.
While elder sexual abuse research is still in its infancy, studies have identified characteristics that can help define the problem.
• Perpetrators are likely to be paid or unpaid male caregivers.
• Older victims are most often females over age 70, who are totally dependent or functioning at a poor level.
• Older victims suffer more genital trauma from sexual assault than younger victims.
• Older victims are less likely to report sexual abuse than younger victims.
Bottom Line if you suspect Sexual Abuse, you are require to report it in the state of Florida to Adult Protective Services at 1-800-96ABUSE (1-800-962-2873) or online at https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us/