‘It is a myth that older people don’t experience sexual violence,’ Durham University research shows

By Clara Gaspar 

A Durham study by researcher Dr Hannah Bows has uncovered that hundreds of people over 60 are victims of sexual violence in the UK.

The research has been significant in recognising that people from the older generation can also be victims of sexual violence. In recognition of her work, Dr Bows was a finalist for Outstanding Early Career Impact in the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize 2017.

According to the research, around 150 rape and serious assaults involving an adult aged 60 or over are reported to the police across England, Wales and Northern Ireland every year

Bows estimates that due to the chronic under-reporting of rape cases, the true figures are likely to be higher.

The study shows that people aged 60 and over are more likely to be raped by an acquaintance in their own home or in a care home, with only one-fifth of rapes against older people being committed by a stranger. In addition, two-thirds of perpetrators were younger than their victim.

She said of her research: “I discovered that the Crime Survey for England and Wales didn’t ask those aged 60 or over questions about sexual violence they may have experienced, and no-one had any convincing explanations why older people weren’t asked

“The crime was almost invisible. People didn’t appear to acknowledge that rape is something that could impact older people. There seems to be an idea that age will make you safe.

“My findings challenge the ‘real rape’ stereotype of a young white woman attacked by a stranger in a dark alley who is motivated by sexual desire.”

Influenced by the Durham University researcher’s findings, the Office for National Statistics is now trialling the collection of data on sexual violence for the over 60s in its Crime Survey for England and Wales. Dr Bows aims to raise awareness of rape against older people.

She said: “It’s not just young people who suffer sexual violence – older people get raped too.”

“Recent plans by the Office for National Statistics to gather data from the over 60s is an important step in reframing the issue.”

Photograph: Durham University

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