April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), a time to raise public awareness about sexual abuse and assault across the lifespan. As professionals who support older survivors of abuse, SAAM is also a time to bring attention to the issue of abuse in later life, promote resources and services for older survivors of abuse, and send the message that you believe and support survivors of all ages.
Sexual abuse is a sensitive topic and the idea of sexual abuse in later life is incomprehensible to many. Despite awareness efforts to dispel the idea that sexual abuse is about lust or passion rather than power and control, that damaging misconception is pervasive in today’s society. Ageist notions favoring the beauty and vitality of youth and deeming older people unattractive and disposable make it even more difficult to believe that an older adult could be sexually assaulted. Further, societal attitudes and responses to those who experience sexual violence, still largely characterized by shame and silence, are compounded by ageism that portrays older people as asexual and therefore outside the accepted boundaries of concern as survivors of sexual violence (Bows, H., 2018).
While sexual abuse in later life has received more attention in recent years, research is still lagging as compared to studies of sexual abuse perpetrated against younger victims. This April, as we work to raise awareness about sexual abuse and assault, it is critical to speak out about sexual abuse in later life and address the unique risk factors faced by older adults. We have compiled a short list of resources to further your learning.
Resource Sheets and Packets
- Lifespan: Sexual Violence Against Adults in Later Life — A web collection from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center that offers information on factors, barriers, statistics, and tools to better understand sexual violence in later life.
- Sexual Abuse in Later Life Resource Sheet — This NCALL resource outlines the findings from a study of nearly 300 cases of sexual assault in later life.
- Sexual Violence in Later Life Information Packet — An informational packet developed by Holly Ramsey-Klawsnik, PhD, in conjunction with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. It includes a fact sheet, technical assistance bulletin, technical assistance guide, resource list, annotated bibliography, research brief, and an online collection.
- Sexual Violence in Later Life: A Technical Assistance Guide for Health Care Providers — Created by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, this guide aims to assist physicians, nurses, and other clinical health care providers in identifying and providing intervention and treatment to older victims of sexual violence.
- Sexual Assault Response Teams Toolkit: Across the Lifespan — This online toolkit from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center addresses issues of sexual assault across the lifespan. The section on working with older survivors of sexual assault is at the bottom of this webpage.
- Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes: What You Need to Know — An issue brief created by the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care in partnership with the National Center on Elder Abuse.
- Abuse in Later Life Education Series for Advocates: Sexual Abuse in Later Life — This online training module created by NCALL provides an overview of sexual abuse in later life including its definition and the unique issues faced by older victims. (Runtime: 25 minutes)
- Responding to Abuse in Later Life: The Role of Forensic Nurses — This webinar facilitated by NCALL and featuring Dr. Kathleen Thimsen, Director of the Doctorate in Nursing Practice Program at the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Nursing as well as the co-Director of its Community Clinic and Treasurer of the Forensic Nursing Certification Board, discusses the role of forensic nurses in the response to violence across the lifespan, including sexual assault in later life. (Runtime: 1 hour 13 minutes)
- Sexual Abuse in Later Life — A video produced by NCALL and Terra Nova Films that provides an overview of sexual abuse in later life. (Runtime: 5:43 minutes)
- Linda, Sexual Assault by a Neighbor — Part of the Lifting Up Voices of Older Survivors series produced by NCALL and Terra Nova Films, this video features Linda, who at age 73, was sexually assaulted by a neighbor. Linda shares her experience of her assault and what helped her in her journey of recovery. (Runtime: 10:23 minutes) (Content warning: abuse in later life, rape, sexual assault)
- In Their Own Words: Miss Mary (I’m Having to Suffer for What He Did) — Part of the In Their Own Words series produced by NCALL and Terra Nova Films, this video features 98-year-old Miss Mary, a survivor of multiple forms of elder abuse at the hands of family members including physical abuse, sexual assault, and financial exploitation. (Runtime: 19:46 minutes) (Content warning: abuse in later life, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, financial exploitation, neglect)
Open Access Articles
- Bows, H. (2018). Practitioner views on the impacts, challenges, and barriers in supporting older survivors of sexual violence. Violence against women, 24(9), 1070-1090.
Nobels, A., Vandeviver, C., Beaulieu, M., Cismaru Inescu, A., Nisen, L., Van Den Noortgate, N.,
- Vander Beken, T., Lemmens, G., & Keygnaert, I. (2020). “Too grey to be true?” Sexual violence in older adults: A critical interpretive synthesis of evidence. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(11), 4117.