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Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is any sexual activity or behaviour for which the older person does not consent or is incapable of giving consent (e.g. a person living with dementia). It includes sexual assault.

Sexual abuse is a violation of human rights and mainly affects women. It can range from sexual harassment through to rape.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2014) included a definition of sexual assault in their report “Sexual Assault in Australia: A statistical overview.” In part it said that sexual assault is unwanted behaviour directed towards a person

  • which makes that person feel uncomfortable, distressed, frightened or threatened, or which results in harm or injury
  • to which that person has not freely agreed or given consent, or to which that person is not capable of giving consent;
  • in which another person uses physical, emotional, psychological or verbal force or (other) coercive behaviour against that person

Older women are often represented within society as not being sexual. Therefore, an older woman might not be believed when she talks about an incident of sexual abuse. As a result, the number of reports of sexual assault against women declines with age. However, there’s evidence to suggest that sexual assault is under-reported significantly by older women.

An older woman might find it difficult to talk about sexual abuse because of the shame that it’s another family member perpetrating the abuse.

Sexual abuse includes sexually exploitative or shaming acts such as: 

  • Leaving a person in a state of undress
  • Forced viewing of sexually explicit materials or images
  • Sexually suggestive comments
  • Exhibitionism
  • Unwanted touching
  • Uninvited sexual approaches
  • Rape
  • Sexually explicit conversations
Beatrice is 70 years old. She has been married for 49 years and has three grown children. She is receiving temporary home after-care...
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If you, or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, help is available through our confidential helpline on 1300 368 821. If it is an emergency, call 000.
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