Preventing the sexual assault of older women in aged care

Monday 25 November celebrated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and saw Senator Rachel Siewert host a roundtable discussion in Canberra on preventing the sexual assault of older women in aged care.

28 Nov 2019

The presentations and discussions throughout the forum highlighted that sexual assault against older women is an under reported and underrepresented issue within aged care and that greater transparency is required to address this shocking form of abuse against our elderly.

ACSA participated in the roundtable along with Professor Joseph Ibrahim, Head of Health Law and Ageing Research Unit at Monash University’s Department of Forensic Medicine, and Dr Catherine Barrett, Director of Celebrate Ageing and the OPAL Institute.

Also contributing were Meghan Wright and Ashleigh May from Monash University who, along with Professor Ibrahim, are the authors of the paper ‘Recommendations for the Prevention and Management of Sexual Violence in Residential Aged Care Services’ and who presented recommendations to members of parliament and the Department of Health in September to improve the management of sexual violence.

ACSA was involved in the consultations undertaken by Monash University in developing this paper and supports their approach that aged care residents should be afforded the same rights, assistance and resources as younger victims of sexual assault.

With the current limited information, education, resources and discussion around sexual assault in aged care, there were a number of issues raised at the roundtable for those of us within the sector to consider in terms of finding a systemic solution to this human rights violation:

  • The under reporting of sexual assault in residential aged care;
  • Victims with dementia are potentially doubted or disbelieved;
  • Sexual assault information reported to the Department of Health is not analysed;
  • Police action and involvement is limited, particularly when the victim has dementia;
  • Victims of sexual assault continue to stay in the same residential care facility as the perpetrator;
  • Staff in residential care are unclear on recognising sexual assault and/or reporting guidelines;
    • Staff don’t recognise sexual assault, or
    • Staff don’t know who to report it to, or
    • Nothing happens if they do report it;
  • The Royal Commission needs to consider this issue;
  • Training and education for staff and Boards, and
  • Prevention is vital however cameras are not the solution in posing issues to privacy and dignity.

What has become apparent through the roundtable and through the research of the OPAL Institute and Monash University, is that we need to continue to be vigilant around protecting older women in our care. We can do this by first opening up the conversation and by supporting the efforts and commitment of others to speak out against this shocking form of abuse against women.

ACSA has produced an Elder Abuse pocket fold for aged care workers and providers. This user-friendly resource provides critical information about how to recognise elder abuse and has been designed so that aged care workers can have it on hand or in their pockets for every shift. Please contact ACSA at to request your free copies.

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Resources and further reading:

ACSA Elder Abuse pocket resource: read more

Roundtable presentation from Dr Catherine Barrett: read more

Submission to the Aged Care Royal Commission, Sexual abuse / assault of older women | Dr Catherine Barrett: read more

The Power Project: read more

Case Study | Margarita's story: read more

Case Study | Sandra’s story: read more

Australian Association of Gerontology Policy Paper | A fair future for older women who experience sexual abuse: read more