Faceless Victims – Who Suffers Sexual Elder Abuse?

In this issue of CARP Action Online we reported on Leonid Kozlov’s conviction.  Wednesday October 17th, is was reported that the nursing home worker convicted of assaulting an elderly female resident suffering from dementia will only serve 12-months in prison.   The case was not widely reported and the minimal sentence does not seem to have ignited much outrage.

Compare and contrast this case with the amount of media coverage and outrage sparked by the infamous “Internet Black Widow” case.  Yet 77-year-old women who also happen to be husband-murdering grifters are a rare breed – elder rapists are not.  

It is worth noting that although the cases are different, sentences for raping an elder are much more severe in the states.  Two recent cases were tried in the past few weeks, a San-Fransisco man who raped and beat a 62-year-old woman was sentenced to 62 years and New Jersey man who raped and beat  an 89-year-old woman was sentenced to 57 years. 

Although extensive research on elder sexual abuse has not been conducted in Canada like it has been conducted in the United-States, prevalence rates and victim profiles for other types of elder abuse are very similar in both countries.

Elder sexual abuse is one of the forms of elder abuse that is rarely, if ever, discussed.  Part of the reason might be that we are deeply uncomfortable with elder sexual abuse but the ageism is also the culprit.  Since we still live in a society that rejects the sexuality of older persons, particularly older women, people have a tendency to dismiss elder sexual abuse because they don’t figure that many rapists would target elders.  The rejection of elder rape as a serious issue main relies on two ignorant and insidious hypotheses:

1)    That only youth is attractive

2)    That rapists are motivated by sexual attraction

Anyone who has undertaken an academic study of the rapist criminal profile will testify to the fact that rapists are in fact motivated by power.

One of the leading academic researchers in this field is Ann W. Burgess, she published a study for the U.S. Department of Justice reviewing data from 284 elder sexual assault cases.  Her findings are immensely important and paint a picture of the many victims we hear too little about:

  • 93.2% of elder sexual assault victims are female
  • The age of the offenders ranged from 13 to 90 years of age.
  • 53.9% of elders reported to Adult Protective Services (APS) and 46.1% of them reported the abuse to the Criminal Justice System (CJS)
  •  Burgess reports that the consequence of a known relationship between the victim and the perpetrator resulted in decreased investigations of the crime, decreased incidences of physical examination for the victims and less referrals to the prosecutor’s office.
  • Elders with dementia were more often abused by people they knew (i.e. family member, caregiver or other nursing home residents) than elders without a dementia diagnosis.  Elders with dementia also presented behavioral cues of distress after an assault (non-verbal).  Abusers targeting elders with dementia were much less likely to be arrested or indicted.
  • Of 226 cases, 180 offenders were identified and 99 were referred to the prosecution, only 17 of them were convicted and 11 plea-bargained.
  • If you calculate the 17 convicted and at the 11 plea-bargained, dividing by the total number of cases (226) – the result it is a 12.4% conviction rate (Burgess does not make this calculation, this is our inference).
  • A significant difference between cases referred through the Justice System (CJS) as opposed to adult protective services (APS) is the rate at which they are investigated/referred to law enforcement.  Burgess suggests that the differential may be partially explained by the wider view that the APS takes of sexual mistreatment and the fact that cases where there is a spousal relationship are less likely to go to trial and more often handled by APS.  It’s likely that many of the victims that have been assaulted by a spouse do not wish to pursue the matter criminally.  While 100% of CJS cases were reported to law enforcement only  45.2% of APS cases were referred to law enforcement.  This can sometimes present an advantage since some victims are seeking out mediation with family members and do not wish to pursue the matter criminally.