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Recent data shows over 500 sexual assaults in aged care in three months

A recently released report from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) has found that 530 sexual assaults occurred in residential aged care facilities in the final quarter of last year.

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Between October to December 2021, there were 530 reports of unlawful sexual contact of residents in aged care. [Source: iStock]

The report shows the safeguards in nursing homes still need to be improved to properly protect older residents.

This new data is only a minor improvement on the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety's estimate that 50 incidences of unlawful sexual contact of an older resident occurred a week.

Data from the October to December 2021 period suggests a decrease to around 44 incidences of unlawful sexual contact a week committed against aged care residents.

Dr Catherine Barrett, Founder of Celebrate Ageing and the Opal Institute - organisations combatting ageism and sexual assault against older people, says that while sexual assault is reducing in aged care, it isn't enough - and that all bodies need to make systemic changes to protect older Australians in aged care.

"One sexual assault in residential aged care is too many, I think 515 were reported as a Priority 1 and another 15 as a Priority 2, it's way too many," says Dr Barrett.

"We would expect there to be an increase because there is an increase in awareness and also because we have moved from compulsory reporting to mandatory reporting.

"But I thought the number was going to be higher than that. I still think it's an underestimation and we have got to get people to report everything. And the next critical step is we have got to move past the data collection to really creating change."

Currently, providers need to report a Priority 1 sexual assault case within 24 hours to the ACQSC and the aged care staff need to determine if there is an impact on the victim as well as how serious the incident is. It has only recently been made mandatory to report cases of sexual assault.

A Priority 1 incident is determined by several factors, including:

  • If the incident could cause the consumer to be physically or psychologically injured or have discomfort that would require medical or psychological treatment to resolve it
  • If there were grounds to contact the police
  • If the consumer had an unexpected death or an unexplained absence from their service

If the assault is considered Priority 2, it needs to be reported within 30 days.

A 2021 KPMG survey found that around 58 percent of aged care staff didn't believe sexual assault had a negative impact on its older victims, which caused concern that providers and staff may not understand the significance of sexual assault and how it affects older victims.

Dr Barrett believes the new safeguards are making a difference, but she says it was interesting that even though the Royal Commission called sexual abuse in aged care "a national disgrace", Commissioners made no specific recommendations relating to sexual assault.

"Families I have worked with have said to me in the past no one has been listening to them, and some of them have communicated to me that they now have hope," says Dr Barrett.

"We are hopeful, we see movement, we see change… We want the number of sexual assaults down to zero. We want zero tolerance of sexual assaults."

At the moment, the #ReadyToListen project, an initiative of Celebrate Ageing, the Older Person's Advocacy Network, and the Older Women's Network New South Wales (NSW), is close to finalising education and training materials that can be utilised by aged care providers and their staff.

"This work I am doing with OPAN is developing resources and building the capacity of service providers to make a difference," says Dr Barrett.

"I think that is really an important place to be. In the past, [the Government has] just gathered the data and really done nothing with it. And so, that sort of sends the message that [sexual assault] has been okay…

"We have ignored older women for such a long time. We know [a lot of] older women are the survivors of sexual assault. There is a lot of work [to do] and a lot of harm to be undone. There is a lot of hurt and silencing that needs to be undone."

Dr Barrett also points out that it's not just residential aged care that needs to be putting in the effort to reduce and prevent sexual assault, the movement should also include external Government departments and other bodies, like the police and sexual assault services.

Many providers and families have reported sexual assault of an older person to police but found no one listened, she says.

"There is a lot more that needs to be done on so many fronts, we can't think this is just the work that residential aged care needs to do, it's across the board," adds Dr Barrett.

To view the full report covering aged care compliance, head to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission website.

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