Sexual Assault Awareness Month
By Molly Hunt, LSW, and Shannon Graham, LSW
As April comes to a close, CARIE wants to lift up the issue of sexual violence and remind our community to also advocate through the lens of older adults. Sexual Assault Awareness month started out as a week of awareness in April by sexual violence advocates but is now a month of observance and time for advocacy. The goal of this month is to raise public awareness and educate communities on how to prevent sexual violence. Sexual assault is a term that refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the consent of the victim, including but not limited to attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, and penetration of the a victim’s body. Elder abuse refers to an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult. Considering the potential overlap of each issue and definition, it is essential that we identify the gaps and ways our system utilizes these separate definitions. In order to honor Sexual Assault Awareness Month as advocates of adults over the age of 60 we need to be able to spread awareness through our lens of working with older adults.
Sexual violence affects individuals across the lifespan, including people in later life. On average there are approximately 500,000 victims of rape and sexual violence in the United States reported each year (RAINN). For those over the age of 60, existing studies estimate that between 2-8 % of older adults experience sexual violence each year, with the lifetime prevalence rates ranging up to 17% (PCAR). While this issue is being researched, it is widely accepted that the numbers reported in these studies vastly underestimate the number of older adults that experience sexual violence. Many barriers affect this reporting including by not limited to; social stigma from discussing sexual activities and sexual violence, disabling conditions that interfere with making a report, victim’s reluctance to report especially if the perpetrator is a family member, delayed medical and police assistance, and a victim’s fear of further harm by a perpetrator. While there are some gaps in the literature, cases of sexual violence against older adults are most commonly reported in locations where the senior lives (whether it’s a care facility or personal home) and offenders are usually known by the older adult. It is important to challenge stereotypes and increase accessibility to services so that older adults that experience sexual violence feel comfortable seeking help and services.
It is never too late to seek support for sexual violence. If you are residing in Philadelphia, you can contact the local resources listed above for assistance and further information. If you are outside of Philadelphia, you can contact the National Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, to find resources near you. If you are interested in seeking crime victim services or counseling following a crime you can contact CARIE at 215-545-5728 (Available 9:00AM- 5:00PM, leave a voicemail outside of business hours and your call will be returned promptly).
- To learn more about Mandated Reporting in PA visit the Pennsylvania Department on Aging. Please be sure to stay educated on the mandated reporting laws in your area. It is essential that we only report without consent (and possibly break confidentiality or trust) when the law requires it of us. This will help us to best preserve the autonomy of older adults and empower them in making the decisions that are best for them.
- Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA): 24/7 Hotline for elder abuse at 215-765-9040, resource referral, education.
- Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR): 24/7 hotline at 215-985-3333, referrals, community education, and more.
- Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR): Support for survivors, education and awareness, resource referrals, etc.
- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN): 24/7 Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), safety and prevention education, public policy advocacy and more.
- National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL): Education, referrals, community resources, and more.