The cost


The cost of reporting is very high. What if the carer who she is reliant on is sexually assaulting her? That’s a horrible situation for her to be in. She is crying and tearing her hair out. What if it’s a family member? She is thinking how sad this is, there is nothing she can do because she doesn’t want to upset the rest of the family. Even if her family were to believe her, she doesn’t want to rock the boat. The cost of reporting is very high, and that’s not a coincidence. It maintains male privilege. Women are still being silenced.

I was a wild child. I used to go out drinking on my own. I ran the gamut, forever dodging advances from men. I would go to parties and fall asleep and then wake up to find a man on top of me. There were more attempts at sexual assault than I can remember. It was just life. A lot were married, some young and some older men in the pubs. They were off the leash (as they would say), and they behaved badly. It was just something men did, and you just had to be street wise.

I got good at being careful, but not perfect. I was never raped but came close. I had a really strong experience of what men were like. They were predatory. If they saw a young woman out on her own, she was fair game. I was taught nothing about sexual rights. Absolutely nothing.

A lot of the things that happened were something that today you could take a man to court for, but you couldn’t then. Men had the right to do that. They thought they had the right. They felt entitled. It was just the normal way of thinking. In their subconscious they had a sense of entitlement. They were living like they were entitled. I think marital rape immunity made them feel more entitled.

There has been a lot on sexual consent in the media, but I reckon there are a lot of older women who have internalised that they don’t have sexual rights; and think that this is just the way it is. If someone has lived most of their life with marital rape, it goes in your head that this is how it is and even though the law has changed it would take something big to make that mind-set go away in the men and in the women as well.

There is not a lot of respect for older women. When you think of the skills older women have used their whole lives; they are enormously skilled. But they don’t get respect from that or from society in general. There is that whole thing about older women becoming invisible because they are considered not of sexual interest to anyone, so they are invisible. Society doesn’t respect them very much at all.

The law has changed for men and women, but some of their attitudes haven’t changed. Older men in residential aged care think ‘that’s the way it is’. That they can still do whatever they want with a woman.

I don’t know what you do about that. You could have cameras in all the rooms but then there is no privacy for the older woman. And then what if it’s the older woman’s own home? What could she do to protect herself?

The image I shared is of an older woman who is at home on her own. Who would she tell if she was being sexually assaulted? You would hope she had family or friends she could talk to. But she is so vulnerable. What if it was the carer who she is reliant on that is sexually assaulting her? That’s a horrible situation for her to be in. In the image, she is crying and tearing her hair out.

An illustration of an eye

The older woman in the image is a woman crying. I was thinking of an older woman who was very conscious of what is happening and feels like she can’t tell anyone. The pic says I can’t do anything. She was crying and thinking about how sad this is, there is nothing I can do because I can’t upset the rest of the family. Even if her family were to believe her, she doesn’t want to rock the boat. What will the consequences be for her with her family? The cost of reporting is very high, and that’s not a coincidence. It maintains male privilege. Women are still being silenced.

Who decides there is no harm from sexual assault? That’s appalling. How do service providers gauge that? It’s bizarre. I just think they don’t want any trouble; they don’t want the mess. They don’t want their establishment to look bad. They probably believe at some level there was no harm – because it suits them to. But what sort of mental and emotional state is the older woman in to begin with? People with dementia have moments of clarity. They would think she didn’t know what was being done to her. But she knows.

An illustration of an eye

Residential aged care is a problem because of the sense of entitlement that men have and then female residents have no protection. Where do they go when sexual assault happens?

How much power do older women have? They lose power, but it depends on their circumstances and their personality. If I think of myself in that situation and I had my mental faculties, I would be jumping up and down if I was sexually assaulted. But if I was in residential aged care, with that level of institutional power, if I reported sexual assault what would I lose? They have no protection.

Rights are only something we have if they are given to us. In institutions, they can take that power away. Older women are so vulnerable. It needs to be advertised where older women can go to for help if they are sexually assaulted.

In residential care, I don’t know any solutions. The camera idea is invasive. They need to screen staff better. Make sure that two people go into a resident’s room, so they are more accountable. They need to look at staff allocation as well. There should be someone who has the responsibility to be aware of the potential for sexual assault by knowing the staff and knowing when members of staff (or visitors) are in someone’s room on their own. They need to ask questions of the female residents, has anyone touched you? Has anyone done anything you don’t like?

Older women have to be directly approached because they are not going to just come out with it and say that they were sexually assaulted. They will be weighing it up. What will happen to me if I report? Then there is the shame of talking about it. A lot of older women won’t feel comfortable talking about sexual assault, so the staff would have to open up the conversations. And then you have to be careful how you talk about sexual assault, so you are not making the older women uncomfortable.

Residential aged care services could have an anonymous ideas box where residents could report sexual assault. It could be a suggestion box where they are invited to share if something has happened to them. Allow them to anonymously report sexual assault.

Confidential phone lines for reporting sexual assault could help older women. There is probably nothing for older women now to report. We need to have a line for older women so they know they will be listened to – they know that older women are heard. They will still weigh up what it will cost them. There is a sense of hopelessness about it.

It’s very difficult. If I think about it happening to myself – horrifying. We have to put ourselves in those older women’s shoes. I’m 68 and have been a lifelong lesbian; I would want to shoot the bastard.

An illustration of an eye

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