Dec 09, 2022

Charter of Sexual Rights protects older people through education

A new national Charter of Sexual Rights in Residential Aged Care will be an important educational tool to help aged care workers, older people and their families identify and properly report acts of sexual assault and family violence in aged care. 

The Charter, formally launched today, offers a suite of resources on identifying and reporting sexual assault, including definitions, rights and consent and compliance with reporting requirements. 

Other parts of the Charter offer a guide on assessing for signs of sexual assault and highlights the importance of practising open disclosure and trauma-informed care. 

These resources outline the rights and responsibilities that aged care providers, workers and older people have when either providing or accessing care while supporting older people’s rights to remain sexually active if they can understand and give consent. 

Founder and Director at Celebrate Ageing, Doctor Catherine Barrett – a co-creator of the Charter – said the Charter clarifies older people’s rights to remain sexually active if they are not cognitively impaired but also highlights the role they play in ensuring their sexual expression doesn’t infringe on others. 

“Giving residents the Charter when they arrive at an aged care home is a way to indicate what they can expect there and what is expected of them,” she said.  

“Staff also have the right to be free from sexual harassment at work and sometimes residents sexually harass or assault staff members, so we’ve got to take a stand against that.  

“The Charter becomes a really important tool for the service provider and the education of older people themselves.”

Fellow co-creator Craig Gear, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN), acknowledged the sector has seen significant policy reforms relating to sexual assault in recent years, including the extension of the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) into home care, but said more needed to be done to protect older people.

“The Charter is designed to help all of us better identify the line between consensual sexual

activity and sexual assault,” he explained.

“But the responsibility does not simply rest with residential aged care service providers – we all have a role to play and that’s why the Charter is so important.

“Crisis support services, the police and the justice system, family violence and sexual assault services must all be made accessible to older people and people with dementia, so they are safe at home and in residential aged care.”

Dr Barrett explained that adequate training needed to be provided to aged care workers to help them identify signs of sexual assault, understand that anyone can be sexually assaulted at any age, and how to properly intervene and report the incident.

“These are things that haven’t been done well in the past,” she said.

“They have the right to education and resources. It’s not enough to point the finger at residential aged care providers and say that they’re not doing enough – we need to give them the tools to improve.” 

The launch of the Charter was held today at a Town Hall event in Melbourne, Victoria, chaired by dementia campaigner and researcher Kate Swaffer and attended by more than 50 key sector stakeholders.

At the event, people living with dementia addressed the barriers to preventing sexual assault in all settings, identify priorities and suggest actions.

OPAN, Celebrate Ageing and Older Women’s Network NSW established the Charter as part of their #ReadyToListen campaign and was based on survey feedback they received from 272 providers, older people and their families.

Feedback from the survey found a portion of providers struggled to recognise the line between sexual activity among consenting older people and instances of sexual assault. 

The Charter can also help aged care workers and older people facilitate discussions with families about their rights and responsibilities, which is also based on the Global Declaration of Sexual Rights

For more information about the charter or support regarding aged care, you can contact the Older Persons Advocacy Network on 1800 700 600 or visit their website.

If you are experiencing sexual assault or family violence, call the 24-hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line, 1800RESPECT, on 1800 737 732. 

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