Aged Care

Inquiry terms welcomed on abuse of older people in care


The Australian Law Reform Commission’s newly announced investigation into justice responses to sexual violence has been welcomed by aged care advocates.

The inquiry’s Terms of Reference specifically include people in residential facilities and older Australians experiencing cognitive decline. This reflects lobbying efforts by groups like the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN).

“We are pleased to note the specific inclusion of people in residential care settings and older people, especially those experiencing cognitive decline in the Terms of Reference,” said OPAN Policy Director Samantha Edmonds.

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission data indicates 40 incidents of unlawful conduct are reported weekly in the sector. Abuse also occurs in domestic settings.

According to Celebrate Ageing Ltd Director Catherine Barrett, older victims still struggle to be heard. “Sexual assault doesn’t stop after a woman hits menopause, the world just stops listening to them,” she said.

Dr Barrett coordinates the Ready to Listen project tackling assault of the elderly in care homes. She said justice and health workers often dismiss older women’s accounts as unreliable, allowing perpetrators targeting them to act with impunity.

“Older people’s access to justice is further obstructed by a commonly held misconception that the sexual assault of older women and people living with dementia is less harmful or not harmful at all,” Dr Barrett said.

“We need to ensure older women are not just included in the plan but also included in strategies to end violence against women and in measuring the plan’s outcomes.”

With aged care population growth projected to accelerate, the ALRC review represents a timely opportunity to address the ongoing scourge of elderly assault and barriers to legal redress.

Dr Barrett said that justice responses must improve to prevent perpetrators exploiting the vulnerability of older people, especially those unable to speak for themselves. Victims deserve belief and protection regardless of age or capacity.

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.

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