International World Ahead of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, UN expert warns of unreported...

Ahead of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, UN expert warns of unreported sexual abuse of senior citizens

Independent expert Rosa Kornfeld-Matte says that sexual abuse of the elderly often goes unnoticed, and therefore unreported, despite the presence of clear warning signs

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The United Nations (UN) is seeking to raise awareness concerning the sexual abuse of seniors, which is a reality not often talked about, but nevertheless occurs.

In line with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is celebrated on June 15, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, an Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, is urging everyone in a statement released on Thursday, June 13, to be more attentive concerning this issue, as well as to report suspected cases of sexual abuse concerning the elderly.

Ms Kornfeld-Matte says that sexual abuse of the elderly often goes unnoticed, and therefore unreported, despite the presence of clear warning signs.

Furthermore, she said, in a world which contains many aging societies, it is highly likely that the incidence of sexual abuse among seniors will only grow “dramatically.”

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But, should these cases go unreported, Ms Kornfeld-Matte says, “Without enough data, statistics, and studies, we will not have even an estimate of the dimensions involved.”

One problem, the expert wrote, is that

“sexual abuse and rape of older persons is still a taboo.”

In her statement, Ms Kornfeld-Matte highlighted the myth that strangers are the main culprits in the sexual abuse of the elderly, whereas the fact is that most of the time, “family members, relatives or other confidants typically in caring positions” are the ones who perpetrate these crimes. But this only adds to the sensitivity around the issue.

Furthermore, “this myth is sustained by a societal attitude that does not accept the concept of sexuality in older age, and therefore the idea that an older woman can be targeted because she is a woman.”

She also explained other barriers to reporting sexual abuse in the elderly:“Negative stereotypes, such as that older persons aren’t sexual beings, their greater dependency on others, potential divided loyalty to staff members or residents, are unique barriers to reporting, detecting and preventing sexual assault in nursing homes. Despite severe health consequences, efforts to prevent and address abuse remain inadequate.”

Additionally, misplaced compassion or shame can also get in the way.

“Another challenge of sexual abuse of older persons is that the opportunity to protect forensic and other criminal evidence can be lost by mistaken compassion or shame of others who desire to make the older person comfortable instead of calling the police.”

Ms Kornfeld-Matte then discussed how to detect signs of sexual abuse among the elderly.
“Very often, the behavior of an older person, even if they have confusion, will tell you that something is wrong. Even with dementia, people can often make their feelings known if you take the time to listen, observe and take notice. A precondition for an increased abuse reporting and detection is that we all are aware and alerted that sexual abuse of older persons is conceivable.”

To end her statement, she repeated how important it is to be aware of the issue and to pay attention to the possible signs of it.

“Finally, let me reiterate that awareness and attentiveness are critical. Not only relatives and confidants but also staff in hospitals and care facilities must be aware of the existence of sexual assault and that it is their duty as care providers to report alleged or suspected sexual assault in a timely manner. More education, training as well as data and research is needed to address the knowledge gaps around incidence, levels of reporting, nature of investigations, responses required to better assist the victim, and the interventions needed to prevent sexual assault.”

In Singapore, there have been more abuse cases reported for both the elderly and children in the last five years, according to a speech in Parliament last February from Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

Dr Faishal said that MSF has investigated 78 cases annually involving elders above the age of 65 since it set up its Adult Protective Service in 2015. For children, 600 abuse cases have been investigated in the past five years.

He told Parliament that endeavours to increase awareness have been helpful in getting more people to report on these cases.

“Because of our efforts to increase awareness and sharpen tools with regards to those who are involved in (helping with) this area, people are able to identify cases easily and bring forward anything they find not right,” Dr Faishal added. -/TISG

Read related: More stories of elderly Singaporeans being chased out of their homes by their children emerge

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