Apr 28, 2023

“You’ve got to have that consent”: sexual assault still common in aged care

Aged care resident, Thomas Denny, talking with fellow residents. [Source: SBS]

A new documentary has shed light on the number of sexual assaults reported by older people, particularly from inside residential aged care facilities. 

Sexual assaults in residential aged care are unfortunately common from both residents to staff and from staff to residents and SBS’s new documentary, Asking for It, has touched on the importance of consent and how the lines can be blurred when a person’s cognition is in question. 

We hear from Thomas Denny, a formerly self-proclaimed sexually active aged care resident living with Parkinson’s disease. Mr Denny discussed how navigating sexual experiences in aged care has its challenges as many residents live with dementia.

“When I first came here, I was sexually active… there were a few ladies that were the same in there,” he explained.

“‘Respect, respect, respect – that’s all you’ve got to remember,’ I said. You’ve got to have that consent.

“A lot of the people that come into places like this they have dementia. A lot of these ladies – I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know how their mind is working – so I don’t know how we negotiate that.”

Older women silenced by dated views

Older people still have a right to have consensual sex while accessing aged care but the numbers of sexual assaults are still high, prompting the establishment of the national Charter of Sexual Rights in Residential Aged Care in December last year.

The Charter acts as an educational tool to help aged care workers, older people and their families identify and adequately report acts of sexual assault and family violence in aged care while supporting older people’s rights to remain sexually active if they can understand and give consent.

The documentary captured a meeting with an Australian older women’s group who discussed how older women are seen as non-sexual beings after a certain age and how their voices are no longer listened to – especially when sexual abuse has occurred.

 This group of women have had to advocate for their rights for a long time.

As the women discussed their experiences as young women, they explained how the dated and dismissive views society held about sexual assault which were damaging and repressive.

Rape in marriage was only recognised in the 1970s thanks to some of these women challenging these views in a second wave of feminism. Unfortunately, these women are still partitioning for their voices to be heard and for sexual assault to be taken more seriously in aged care.

“If you thought, for some reason, that one of the workers in a childcare centre was abusing your child – and I think we’d think that was completely unacceptable – I think the same rules apply to the older sector as well,” said one of the group members.

Co-creator of the Charter and Founder and Director at Celebrate Ageing, Doctor Catherine Barrett, said that 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

Watch episode one of Asking For It on the SBS on Demand website or app.

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