Sexual Abuse

What does sexual abuse look like?

Sexual abuse is any kind of sexual interaction without a senior’s full knowledge and consent. At worst it is assault and rape. It has been separated from physical abuse and given its own category because the possibility of sexual abuse of seniors is so rarely considered.

Sexual abuse can take place with a confused senior, (dementia), or confused residents in care facilities where they may be approached by other vulnerable residents, visiting spouses/partners, or occasionally, by care workers. Sexual abuse can also happen to competent seniors by spouses, partners, family members, or trusted people in their lives.

Continuum of Sexual Abuse

  • Jokes about a senior in her or his presence.
  • Treating senior as a sex object (ogling).
  • Sexual jokes about seniors.
  • Not paying attention to his/ her, changing psychological needs.
  • Minimizing his/her feelings and needs.
  • Criticisms about a senior sexually.
  • Uncomfortable or unwanted touching.
  • Withholding sex/affection.
  • Seeing need for affection as sexual.
  • Sexual labels – such as “frigid” or “dried up”.
  • Always wanting sex.
  • Senior not able to say “no”, due to conditioning, dementia, other reasons .
  • Promiscuity.
  • Demanding sex with threats.
  • Forcing sex with self or others .
  • Forcing uncomfortable sex.
  • Sex for purpose of hurting (use of objects/weapons).

At a state convention, Massachusetts elder protective workers were asked to report on cases of sexual abuse of people over 60 years of age with whom they had worked. They were asked to describe the kinds of sexual abuse activities these people were subjected to.

This exploratory study found that all reported victims were female. Forty-six percent were in their 70’s and 21% were in their 80’s. The most frequent suspected form of sexual abuse was rape (61%), with the majority of these being repeated vaginal rape. Adult sons were most often the suspected offenders (39%) with spouses being the next most often suspected offenders (29%)

Sexual Abuse Scenarios

Scenario #1

Helen, a widow of 64 years of age, had known Jim 75, and his wife most of her life. Jim’s wife, Lil, became ill with cancer. The last two years of her life were spent in and out of the hospital. When Helen visited Lil in the hospital, she noticed that whenever the nurses mentioned Lil could go home for awhile, she would appear anxious and often cry.

Shortly after Lil died, Jim started visiting Helen daily. Six months later he asked her to move in with him. She agreed, and the first week they were very comfortable together. Then Jim became aggressive sexually, attacking her in the middle of the night. When Helen complained, he said “Lil hadn’t liked it much either, but she kept me happy until she died.” Helen realized the horror Lil must have endured. She understood why she had been anxious and tearful before her visits home. Helen moved out of Jim’s house the next day.

Scenario #2

Ethel, a widow of 87 years of age, suffering from dementia is living in a pleasant care facility. One day, when a care aid was preparing her bath, Ethel started to cry and pulled away from her, holding her nightgown as tight as possible. The nurse inspected further and discovered bruise marks over her body.

When the nurses investigated, the lady in the next bed, also in stages of dementia, suddenly said, ” He comes in here late at night and attacks us both!”

After further investigation, the staff discovered that during the night shift, a male care aide had been sexually abusing several of the residents who were suffering from dementia.