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Unlawful sexual contact in residential aged care: A practical guide for aged care providers supporting victims

‘Unlawful sexual contact’ is non-consensual sexual activity with a resident in an aged care service. The annual Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act stated that there were 816 reported incidents of unlawful sexual contact in 2019-2020. However, the annual statistics do not include cases where the perpetrator was a fellow resident with a mental or cognitive impairment. Recent research by KPMG estimated the prevalence of resident-on-resident unlawful sexual contact to be 1,730 incidents per year. The actual number is likely to be even higher given issues around impaired residents and under-reporting. Counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Aged Care estimated there are around 50 sexual assaults per week in aged care.

In 2017, the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into elder abuse highlighted problems with the current arrangements for responding to assaults in residential aged care and recommended that a new serious incident response scheme be implemented. The Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) will commence on 1 July 2021 and will require residential aged care providers to:

- identify, record, manage and resolve all incidents

- report a broader range of serious incidents to the Commission

- put in place measures to prevent similar incidents from reoccurring

Alongside the SIRS, we believe there is a need for comprehensive educational resources to guide aged care service providers about how to respond to unlawful sexual contact. Research has found that without adequate education and guidance, the past responses of some aged care service providers did not effectively promote the safety of victims.

This resource aims to help address the gap by providing information for aged care service providers on how to respond to unlawful sexual contact in ways that respect and support victims and their families. It draws on research and stakeholder feedback from:

This resource begins by presenting Sandra’s story (which was shared by her daughter) to show the impact of unlawful sexual contact on victims and their families. Then the resource provides research on victim and perpetrator characteristics; signs of unlawful sexual contact; and strategies for responding to unlawful sexual contact. Finally, the resource provides guidance to encourage reflection on Sandra’s story and how aged care providers could respond better.

You can download the resource here.

Further information about AAG's other work on preventing sexual abuse is available here.

Read the Australian Ageing Agenda article about the resource here (published 16 December 2020)

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