Chilling silence surrounds sexual violence against older women in SW

From Women’s Centre, Cornwall:


Local charities find ‘chilling silence’ surrounding sexual violence against older women in the South West of England

Four rape and sexual abuse charities, the South West Rape Crisis Centre Partnership, have identified a chilling silence and invisibility around sexual violence against older women in the South West of England. The Women’s Centre Cornwall publicised their findings from the survey and research they undertook to gather information on sexual violence experienced by local women, at any time in their life, who are now aged 55 and over.  Within the Chilling Silence Report recommendations are made on how local police forces, local authorities, local aged care and statutory organisations can help affected older women in the region.

Maggie Parks, CEO of The Women’s Centre Cornwall said,

We have calculated there are approximately 176,000 older women living in the South West who have experienced sexual violence at some point in their life.

‘Only 10% of users of the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre’s in Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Avon are over the age of 55. We know this should be higher.  We are concerned that there are older survivors or victims of sexual violence hidden in plain sight in our cities, towns and villages.

Sexual violence against older women can and does occur in many places including their own homes and in residential, care and nursing homes.

‘For many older women in Cornwall sexual violence is happening now and it is ongoing; other women have experienced it in the past when they were younger or children, leaving them with a potential life-sentence of trauma.  Many will have experienced sexual violence multiple times.

‘Older women are less likely to speak openly about past and present sexual and domestic violence including child sexual abuse.  Reasons for this include a legacy of old societal norms such as the stigma of shame, dependency on their abuser for daily care and fear that disclosure may be misinterpreted as part of dementia. 

It is hard not to conclude that we live in a society that is willing to ignore and turn away from older women who are victims or survivors of sexual violence in the same way that we once ignored and turned away from the victims or survivors of child sexual abuse.’ 

The charities in the South West Rape Crisis Partnership are calling on local organisations to identify new ways to make sexual violence services more accessible to older women and to introduce new guidelines to enable aged care and organisations to better understand the needs of older women disclosing sexual violence.

Maggie Parks, the CEO of The Women’s Centre Cornwall stated, ‘In 2020, we hope few would disagree that older women in our region should not be left to suffer trauma alone and isolated.  We can change this in Cornwall by acting on the recommendations in The Chilling Silence Report and make today our opportunity to take the first steps to break the chilling silence around sexual violence against older women in our county’.

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