Four rape and sexual abuse charities, the South West Rape Crisis Centre Partnership, have identified a chilling silence and invisibility around sexual violence against older women in the South West of England.  On Wednesday, 29 January 2020, the charities will publish, at an event in Bristol, their findings on a survey and research they undertook to gather information on sexual violence experienced by local women, at any time in their life, who are now aged 55 and over.  The charities have made recommendations on how local police forces, local authorities, local aged care and statutory organisations can help affected older women in the region.

Claire Bloor, CEO of Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS) said,

We have calculated there are approximately 176,000 older women living in the South West who have experienced sexual violence at some point in their life.

‘Only 10% of users of the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centres in Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Avon are over the age of 55. We know this should be higher.  We are concerned that there are older survivors or victims of sexual violence hidden in plain sight in our cities, towns and villages.

Sexual violence against older women can and does occur in many places including their own homes and in residential, care and nursing homes.

‘For many older women in the South West of England sexual violence is happening now and it is ongoing; other women experienced it in the past when they were younger or children, leaving them with a potential life-sentence of trauma.  Many will have experienced sexual violence multiple times.

‘Older women are less likely to speak openly about past and present sexual and domestic violence including child sexual abuse.  Reasons for this include a legacy of old societal norms such as the stigma of shame, dependency on their abuser for daily care and fear that disclosure may be misinterpreted as part of dementia. 

It is hard not to conclude that we live in a society that is willing to ignore and turn away from older women who are victims or survivors of sexual violence in the same way that we once ignored and turned away from the victims or survivors of child sexual abuse.’ 

The charities are calling on local organisations to identify new ways to make sexual violence services more accessible to older women and to introduce new guidelines to enable aged care and organisations to better understand the needs of older women disclosing sexual violence.

Claire Bloor, the CEO of Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS) stated, ‘In 2020, we hope few would disagree that older women in our region should not be left to suffer trauma alone and isolated.  We can change this in the South West and today as first steps we are launching an information campaign that will help us break the chilling silence around sexual violence against older women in our region’.

Poster on sexual violence against older women – Any age (SARSAS) Jan 2020

Poster on sexual violence against older women – 50 years (SARSAS) – Jan 2020

#chillingsilence #olderwomen #sexualviolence #nevertoolate

Further information:

  1. The South West Rape Crisis Centre Partnership is made up of Somerset and Avon Rape & Sexual Abuse Support, Devon Rape Crisis & Sexual Abuse Services, The Women’s Centre Cornwall and the Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre Gloucestershire

2. The charities’ six recommendations for the South West of England are:

  • The term ‘elder abuse’ is no longer used to describe sexual violence by national and local aged care and statutory organisations working in the South West of England. The correct terminology should be sexual violence, rape, sexual assault or sexual abuse.
  • New research on sexual violence against older women is commissioned in the South West and nationally covering (but not limited to): women living in social care settings, impact and coping strategies, the experiences, prevalence and impact of sexual violence within minority communities, women living with dementia, women with disabilities, the impact of the menopause.
  • An appropriate support and service delivery model for older women who are victims or survivors of sexual violence should be funded by statutory bodies, developed and implemented in the South West of England.
  • Clear referral pathways and access to advice is developed for professionals including GPs in order to improve support provisions for older survivors and victims.
  • Across the South West, all appropriate organisations including Police Forces and Local Authorities, review their older people and sexual violence and rape strategies to ensure older women are actively included and reflected in their work and campaigns. These organisations need to proactively challenge ageism and the still prevalent cultural beliefs and myths surrounding older women as victims or survivors of sexual violence.
  • National and local aged care and statutory organisations working in the South West of England review their guidelines in order to improve their support for older women disclosing sexual violence. Aged care sector staff are trained on signs and symptoms in older women relating to sexual violence.

3. This work is part of a project funded by Comic Relief.

4. Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS) on behalf of the Partnership undertook a survey in September 2019 across Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset, Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Torbay and Devon. A total of 124 women aged 55 and over completed the survey. The survey was a regional first in the South West of England.  The aim was to gather data around the prevalence of sexual violence experienced by women aged 55 and over (at any time in their life), themes around impact and coping strategies and information on barriers that may prevent older women from accessing specialist support services.  SARSAS also undertook a review of national and international academic literature and relevant research on sexual violence against older women.

5. According to the 2017 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), one in five women in England and Wales have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16. Census research shows there is an older than average population across the South West of England and we have calculated there are approximately 176,000 older women living in the region who have experienced sexual violence at some point in their life.  In 2019, the South West Rape Crisis Centre Partnership undertook a project to identify and recommend ways of reducing barriers to support older women that have experienced sexual violence at any time in their life.