Focus on Sexual Abuse in Later Life

New Resource for Sexual Assault Awareness Month 

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), an annual observance to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence in the United States. In honor of SAAM, NCALL created a new resource: Sexual Abuse Across the Lifespan: Believing and Supporting Older Survivors. Sexual abuse occurs across the lifespan, but sexual abuse in later life is highly under-researched, under-reported and under-discussed—even often not believed to happen at all.  

This resource aims to bring much needed focus to the issue of sexual abuse in later life. It will unpack what sexual abuse in later life is, describe the unique issues faced by older survivors of sexual abuse, and discuss the barriers older survivors face in accessing safety and healing. The resource will also briefly examine why sexual abuse in later life falls under the radar and conclude with some strategies for supporting older survivors.  

Leveraging Existing Campaigns to Bring Focus to the Issue of Sexual Abuse in Later Life 

As you prepare for SAAM, we hope you are considering how you will connect your outreach efforts to older survivors and the professionals who serve them. No matter if your SAAM plans are mostly in place, or you’re still searching for inspiration, the ideas below will offer some tangible ways to be inclusive of older survivors and raise awareness of sexual abuse in later life.  

Building Connected Communities 

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s 2024 SAAM theme is Building Connected Communities. They write, Community creates a sense of belonging and reminds us of how our beliefs, choices, and actions impact one another. At the center of Building Connected Communities is ensuring our communities are safe, inclusive, and equitable. Racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and other forms of oppression contribute to higher rates of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. We must address all abuses of power to prevent sexual violence — in our relationships, communities, and society.”   

This campaign lends itself naturally to discuss how building supportive communities helps reduce isolation, which is a leading risk factor for abuse in later life. It also provides an opportunity to address the importance of a coordinated community response to sexual abuse in later life. At the same time, the campaign invites us to look at how ageism, ableism, and other oppressions increase the risk for the sexual victimization of older adults. 

Build upon their social media prompts and readymade graphics and include supportive messaging for older survivors of sexual abuse and assault. Below are a few example posts showing how you might bring attention to sexual abuse in later life in your social media campaign. 

  • A known risk factor for sexual abuse in later life is isolation. By #BuildingConnectedCommunities, we strive to create strong support systems that reduce the likelihood of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment in our communities. #SAAM 
  • This year’s theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is #BuildingConnectedCommunities, which underscores the importance of community responsibility, coordinated efforts, and collaborative responses to end sexual violence in later life. #SAAM  
  • An older adult who experiences sexual abuse may seek support from a victim services agency or law enforcement. They may also turn to familiar supports such as their community center, medical practitioner, or faith community. #BuildingConnectedCommunities means creating a support network that understands and designs holistic interventions and healing supports that not only address the abuse, but also value the older survivors’ culture, life experiences, and challenges outside of the abuse. 
  • Racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and other forms of oppression contribute to higher rates of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse across the lifespan.  #BuildingConnectedCommunities means older survivors of sexual assault will experience accessible, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed services and resources. #SAAM  
Start By Believing 

Since its 2011 launch by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI), roughly 750 organizations throughout the country and beyond have created their own Start By Believing campaign, including NCALL. The message of the campaign is foundational to supporting survivors of sexual violence. By preparing both professionals and loved ones to respond appropriately to sexual assault disclosures, we help to improve outcomes for survivors – one response at a time. 

Be sure to check out the 2024 Start by Believing Social Media Kit and graphics. EVAWI encourages others to use their branded materials to spread the word or create their own campaign materials with an organizational logo and targeted community messaging. Here are a couple of example posts showing how you might include older survivors in your social media campaign. 

  • How you talk about sexual violence matters. Send the message that you believe and support survivors of all ages. #StartByBelieving #SAAM
  • The lack of awareness and acceptance of sexual violence in later life reflects ageist and sexist attitudes toward older people. ​Resist harmful assumptions that older adults are not victims of sexual crimes. #StartByBelieving #SAAM  
  • Sexual assault in later life is a serious, underreported crime. Advanced age does not protect one from sexual assault, but rather increases risk in many ways. When an older adult discloses abuse, always #StartByBelieving. #SAAM 
  • Knowing how to respond to someone who has disclosed abuse is critical—a negative response can worsen the trauma. When an older adult shares their story, always #Start by Believing. #SAAM 

Thank you for joining us this April, and all year long, as we work together to raise awareness about sexual abuse and assault in later life and strive to create compassionate, survivor-centered supports for all survivors across the lifespan.

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