Have your say on new sexual abuse charter for aged care

30_8_22 sexual assault charter

Advocacy organisations, Celebrate Ageing and Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN), have partnered up to establish a sector feedback survey on a draft of the newly created Charter of Sexual Rights and Responsibilities in Residential Aged Care.

According to  a recent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission report, more than 40 sexual assaults are recorded in residential aged care each week.

Celebrate Ageing Founder and Researcher Dr Catherine Barrett, who has been working with older people for over 25 years, said industry feedback suggested workers did not feel confident or comfortable enough to properly manage sexual activity and conversations in residential aged care. 

 “They’re finding it difficult to identify where the line is, and that’s partly about understanding sexual consent more broadly,” she said. 

“Many aged care staff really haven’t had education about older peoples’ sexuality, a lot of them don’t expect them to be sexual and have a misunderstanding of sexual assault.

The organisations believe that the Charter will reduce the number of sexual abuse claims coming out of residential aged care and are seeking responses from service providers, aged care workers, residents and their families in the form of a survey

The Charter draft was developed by Dr Barrett to help carers improve their responses to sexual assault and learn how to prevent it, including suggestions of how they might approach their care obligations.

This Charter was born from the #ReadyToListen campaign, which aims to prevent sexual assault in residential aged care, educate service providers and carers about residents’ sexual rights, and train them to be able to identify when sexual activity turns into sexual assault.

The definition of sexual assault varies across each State and Territory, but #ReadyToListen resources use the term sexual assault to describe ‘unlawful sexual contact and inappropriate sexual conduct on the residential care recipient’. 

Only recently the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) changed the reportable incidents framework to include sexual assault as a Priority 1 reportable incident.

OPAN Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Craig Gear said the organisation volunteered to host the survey and plans to release a series of resources, training and leadership development about it for aged care workers and providers in the next few months. 

“We thought it was important to get public consultation on how we might operationalise a Charter such as this to give people a greater understanding of the need to support older people in this area,” he said.  

“There’s an interplay of human rights which when you look at the idea of sexual freedom, sexual rights and activities, it’s about finding where that fits within residential aged care and we’re hoping this Charter will help find that balance.”

Dr Barrett said a person living in residential aged care has the same rights as anyone else living in the community, including around sexual relationships and consent.  This includes:

  • The right to engage in sexual activity 
  • To express affirmative sexual consent 
  • To continue existing sexual relationships or to form new sexual relationships
  • The right to change the way they express their sexuality
  • The right to sexual privacy
  • The right to be free from sexual assault 

Aged care residents have the above rights, but also have the responsibility to respect other residents and staff when engaging in sexual activity, said Dr Barrett.

Additionally, she said aged care staff have the right to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace and should have access to education and resources about residents’ sexual rights.

The Charter draws on the Declaration of the Sexual Rights of Older People, a set of rights developed and adapted by Dr Barrett and fellow researchers from The

World Association for Sexual Health’s declaration of sexual rights of all people.

It will also outline of the sexual rights and responsibilities of people living in residential aged care, and the workplace rights of staff and their responsibilities related to promoting sexual rights of residents. 

Feedback on the Charter of Sexual Rights and Responsibilites in Residential Aged Care survey closes on September 23. 

Visit the #ReadyToListen webpage for more resources on improving response to and preventing sexual assault.

OPAN provide independent, confidential, and free advocacy support for people living in residential aged care and can be contacted by phone on 1800 700 600.

For sexual assault services and support, call 1800 737 732 (1800 RESPECT) to identify the closest sexual assault service, or ask a staff member to assist you. 

You also have the right to make a complaint about sexual assault to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission by phone between 8 am-5 pm, Monday to Friday on 1800 951 822 or by email on info@agedcarequality.gov.au.

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