In the wake of the ABC’s revealing investigation into aged care, the broadcaster is now calling for members of the public to come forward with information about sexual abuse in aged care.
During the Four Corners investigation, the ABC team received a number of reports of sexual assault in residential aged care, which has led them to look more deeply into this issue.
Though sexual abuse is an uncomfortable topic to deal with, if we don’t bring the stories to light and examine them, it’s impossible to develop strategies to prevent it, or work out the best ways to help victims recover.
Sexual assault data collected, but not used to help
According to data contained in 2016-17 Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act, there were 390 reports of unlawful sexual contacts in aged care during the year.
However, the real numbers could be higher as operators do not have to report alleged or suspected assaults if the alleged perpetrator is another aged care resident who has a cognitive or mental impairment, and if arrangements are put in place to manage the behaviour within 24 hours.
Similarly, assaults do not have to be reported if a similar incident, or the same incident, has previously been reported to police and the Department of Health.
Dr Catherine Barrett, Director of Celebrate Ageing, said the government is collecting the data but it isn’t using it to create solutions.
“The government has set the tone by collecting the data, now it requires leadership,” she said.
She said the data could be used to identify patterns, and develop education resources and strategies to help aged care facilities manage incidents of sexual abuse, and ideally to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
“We need change and I don’t see change happening,” she said.
ABC reporting “filling a void”
Dr Barrett said a lot of families and victims, usually women, she speaks to say they don’t feel listened to, and they don’t receive an adequate response to their complaints.
She said the ABC’s ‘Who Cares’ report, which revealed the stories of both aged care workers and families who had experienced poor care in aged care facilities, filled a gap in the sector that made people at last feel their concerns were being heard.
“I think the ABC is filling a void. Families do not feel heard, by and large,” she said.
If the ABC can shine a spotlight on sexual abuse in aged care, it may follow that the policy, education and resources the issue requires are delivered.
Attitudes to older people and sexuality must change
“We have thought of older people as asexual and we’ve got to change that,” said Dr Barrett.
A few years ago, CNN did a major exposay on sexual abuse in residential aged care in the United States, identifying the problem as an ‘epidemic’. Since then, new educational resources have been developed. Dr Barrett said we need to do the same in Australia.
It’s horrifying to think of residents in aged care facilities being sexually abused. It’s something that many of us would prefer not to think about. But if we don’t bring these stories to light and examine them, we may never work out what we should be doing to prevent sexual abuse from happening in the first place, and determine how to help the victims and their families to recover.
Dr Barrett said there is some wonderful work being done to support victims of sexual abuse in aged care, and that these positive facts should be included in discussions of the topic.
“Some residential aged care facilities have responded in really constructive ways,” she said. “Some are preventing it, and making residents safe,” she said.
The Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt AM, told HelloCare, “Any abuse of senior Australians is abhorrent and will not be tolerated. I welcome inquiries that further expose mistreatment and abuse.”
He said, “The Royal Commission will provide an opportunity to fully understand the challenges and issues facing the aged care sector now and into the future.”
If you are concerned about the care being provided in an aged care facility, your can contact the Aged Care Complaints Commission at www.agedcarecomplaints.gov.au.
If you would like to share an incident or any information about sexual abuse in aged care, you can email the ABC at firstname.lastname@example.org.