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Elder Sexual Abuse

By Sondra Phelps, Sexual Assault Outreach Specialist, and Evelyn Chang, Advancement Intern

While many people assume that older individuals are at less risk for sexual violence, elders have many of the same risk factors that contribute to higher numbers of sexual violence in very young children and people with disabilities. Like these groups, elders are easier targets, are less able or less likely to report the abuse and may not be believed.

Defining Elder Sexual Abuse

Elder sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual contact or sexual advances toward an older adult. Victims are typically over the age of 70 and suffer from poor cognitive function, which limits the capacity to consent. Any sexual behavior when the older adult is unable to fully consent is also elder sexual abuse. 80% of perpetrators of elder sexual abuse are caregivers, and 67% are family members. Perpetrators are more likely to be cisgender men, and victims are more likely to be women. Elder sexual abuse can contribute to depression and anxiety, sexually transmitted infections, physical injuries, premature death and decline in cognitive function.

Warning Signs

Because victims of elder sexual abuse may not be able to communicate or report assault, knowing the warning signs is essential to identifying and stopping elder sexual violence. Generally, victims of elder sexual abuse are less likely to report the incident or allow for evidence collection. Unexplained bruises, bleeding or STIs can all point to the possibility of elder sexual abuse. Additionally, an older adult reporting being sexually assaulted or raped should be taken seriously.

What You Can Do

The first step to stopping elder sexual abuse is recognizing that it happens and becoming educated on the issue. Talk about consent with your loved one, and determine whether they are physically and mentally capable of giving consent. Learn to identify risky situations, and keep a healthy, communicative relationship with the elderly adult in your life.

Want to learn more?

Family Service of the Piedmont offers trainings on elder abuse and sexual violence for businesses and organizations. Email communityoutreach@fspcares.org.