Sexual assault of older people? That doesn’t happen, does it?

It does. In fact people who are older may be at a higher risk for sexual assault. They may have impaired hearing, diminished physical strength, limited mobility and may rely on others to help care for their personal needs.

Some may have a disease that limits their ability to consent or which impairs their memory. These factors increase their vulnerability to a sexual assault, either from an unknown person or from someone they know.

People over the age of 60 account for 18 percent of sexual assault victims. Older rape victims are more often severely injured by the sexual assault and, according to the Bureau of Justice, 2.6 percent of rape victims over 60 were murdered during the rape.

It is also estimated that there are 3.5 million women nationally 60 years or older who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse (Farris, M & Gibson, JW). In the Maine Crime Victimization Report, 32.1 percent of females and 5.3 percent of males said that they had been a victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. It is reasonable to assume that these percentages are also true for people who are elderly, since the measure is about a lifetime experience.

Despite these facts, only 30 percent of elder victims report sexual assaults to the police. Most sexual assaults of older people are unreported because the victim may feel shame, guilt and fear. Or, the assault may have been committed by a person close to the victim, or a person responsible for their care.

By reporting the crime, the elderly person may worry that they will upset their family and bring about serious consequences to a loved one or caregiver. If the assailant is a caregiver, the older person may fear that they will lose support for their independence and be moved to an assisted living or residential care facility.

For older people who were sexually abused as children, telling may be especially difficult. They were told they should just forget about it, or think that because it happened long ago, they should not bring it up. They may feel that they should be “over it,” even though they are still impacted by that experience. And, since there were no resources available for them when the abuse occurred, they have not had any opportunity to get help in dealing with its impact.

Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, known in Androscoggin County as the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, recognizes the difficulty for older survivors to access services and talk about sexual assault. For the past several years, a SACC advocate has reached out to people who are elderly to provide services in a safe, comfortable, low barrier way.

Currently, the SACC advocate provides weekly drop-in services at four different elderly housing complexes. This has helped many elderly people be able to talk about the abuse and begin the process of healing without leaving their comfort zones or having their families involved.

Knowing the challenges for an older person to report a sexual assault, SACC has also been offering trainings in collaboration with the Androscoggin Elder Abuse Task Force to help people identify and respond to possible indicators of elder abuse, including sexual assault. These trainings are free of charge and are available to any community organization or group that works or interacts with people who are elderly.

Sexual assault of older people? It does happen. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or is a victim of childhood sexual abuse and wants to talk about it, please contact the Sexual Assault Crisis Center at 207-784-5272 or call the 24 hour hotline at 1-800-871-7741.

Jamie Demers is the SACC outreach coordinator for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

June 15 is Elder Abuse Awareness Day and many local agencies will provide education, resources and basic safety tips about elder abuse.

A Senior Resource Fair is being held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, June 15, at SeniorsPlus to provide information on the different aspects of elder abuse, 7 Falcon Road, Lewiston. To register, call 795-4010.

Sexual Assault Crisis Center advocates will be present for any person who wants assistance with a situation of elder abuse.

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