The Australian Association of Gerontology has developed a guide to help aged care providers to respond to unlawful sexual contact in their facilities and support victims and their families.

The free resource, Unlawful sexual contact in residential aged care: A practical guide for aged care providers supporting victims, has been developed in collaboration with the Older People and SexuaLity Institute.

It draws on research and stakeholder feedback, including from the Older Women’s Network of New South Wales and the OPAL Institute’s #InHerShoes Project, which documented responses of older women who reported sexual assault, and AAG’s and the OPAL Institute’s workshop on unlawful sexual contact workshop held in November 2019.

Unlawful sexual contact is non-consensual sexual activity with a resident in an aged care service, however it can include actions that do not involve contact or touching, such as sexual threats, masturbating in front of someone or exposure of genitals.

Approved residential aged care providers are currently required under the Aged Care Act to report every incident of alleged or suspected reportable assault to both local police and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission within 24 hours.

Dr Catherine Barrett

The resource includes a case study of Sandra, a resident who reported rape in her facility, to show the impact of unlawful sexual contact on victims and their families.

It also includes research on victim and perpetrator characteristics, signs of unlawful sexual contact and strategies for responding to unlawful sexual contact.

The resource also provides guidance to encourage reflection on Sandra’s story and how aged care providers can respond better.

OPAL Institute founder and director Dr Catherine Barrett said the guide is important because it provides evidence-based tips.

“One of the things that’s incredibly important about this resource is that it’s saying to people who work in residential aged care services, ‘here’s a really practical resource that’s based on research evidence’, but it’s also based on practical tips and guidelines,” Dr Barrett told Australian Ageing Agenda.

She said the Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act found 739 reports of unlawful sexual contact in 2018-19.

“We know that residential aged care homes only have to report on the sexual contact that’s perpetrated by someone who does not have a cognitive impairment, so the figure is likely to be a lot higher,” said Dr Barrett, founder and director of Celebrate Ageing.

Dr Barrett said the resource highlights the importance of listening to residents who report unlawful sexual contact.

“Research shows time and time again, if an older woman reports sexual assault, often the report is dismissed to be a symptom that she has a urinary tract infection. Testing for urinary tract infections is incredibly important, but that doesn’t mean don’t listen,” Dr Barrett said.

She said through the resource, aged care providers can learn about the range of services available for unlawful sexual contact.

“If an older person reports sexual assault… they have the right to access sexual assault services,” she said.

 “There are free services all around the country for people who report sexual assault.”

Dr Barrett said accessing sexual assault services can make an “enormous difference” to the resident.

“Contacting a sexual assault service is incredibly important.”

Access the resource here.

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