Are older women forgotten in the fight against sexual violence?


In light of this year's International Women's Day on March 8, we want to draw attention to the risk of neglecting older women in the discourse on women's rights and in the recent campaigns around sexual victimisation.

Sexual violence can induce long-lasting sexual, reproductive, physical, and mental health problems for victims and their peers, offspring, and community.1 In older adults, however, manifestations of these consequences are rarely recognised or linked to sexual victimisation.2 In contrast to the increasing research on elder abuse and neglect, sexual violence in older adults remains a largely under-researched area. In a meta-analysis of elder abuse prevalence in community settings,3 only 16 of 52 included studies addressed sexual violence. Moreover, reported prevalences of sexual violence in older adults were likely to be underestimated because of several methodological problems. First, most studies only included questions about rape, which is much less common than for example sexual harassment or sexual abuse without penetration. Second, in the majority of studies older adults were interviewed via telephone, which could lead to underreporting caused by safety issues, especially when victim and assailant live together. Third, all studies exclude cognitive impaired older adults who are known to be vulnerable to different types of abuse.4 And finally, all studies focus on assailants known to the victim, ignoring the fact that older adults can also be sexually offended by strangers. In summary, sexual violence in older adults is still too often conflated with other types of violence in the broader context of elder abuse and neglect.6


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Authors & affiliation: 
Anne Nobels a, , Christophe Vandevive rb, c, Marie Beaulieu e, Gilbert MD Lemmens d, Ines Keygnaert a a International Centre for Reproductive Health, Department of Uro-Gynaecology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium b Department of Criminology, Criminal Law and Social Law, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium c Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), Brussels, Belgium d Department of Psychiatry, Ghent University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium e School of Social Work and Research on Aging, University of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada
Published In: Published online March 7, 2018
Publication date: 
Thursday, March 8, 2018