Sexual violence (SV) is a complex, taboo social issue that is less discussed as adults grow older. Elders remain at risk of SV, yet are widely excluded from SV prevention efforts. Thus, directed by an integrative Critical Feminist Gerontological-Social Ecological Framework, an online Perceptions of Sexual Violence survey was conducted to examine SV perceptions, particularly in later life, and how age, gender, SV experience, or work with elders or SV survivors may impact perceptions and barriers to prevention.
Data was collected through a survey shared on Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTURK). Upon agreeing to participate in the survey, participants were randomly assigned to one of five vignettes portraying the five identified forms of SV in later life. The victim’s age was also randomly assigned, from 21, 51 or 81 years. Participants answered questions about the vignettes, on SV identification, knowledge of where to report, and endorsement of reporting SV. In total, 567 responses were analyzed to examine how age, gender, work industry and type as well as SV experience can predict ability to identify SV, and reportability. Binomial logistic regression (LR) analysis was used to examine ability to label and endorsement of reporting SV, and a chi-square analysis was used to determine knowledge of where to report SV.
The LR analyses determined that social workers, SV agency workers, and individuals who frequently worked with victims were less likely to label SV, while those who frequently worked with elders or received a vignette involving incest were more likely to identify SV. Chi-square analysis results suggest participants who were 50 years or older, those who worked with elders or received a vignette involving an 81 year old victim more often knew where to report SV, yet knowledge of where to report SV was less frequently demonstrated by SV agency workers. LR results suggested an increased likelihood of endorsing reports that involved incest, institutional SV, SV offended by a care provider, or if participants worked frequently with elders. Yet those who worked frequently with survivors or in long-term care less often endorsed reporting.
The results offer a greater understanding of perceptions of SV, including in later life, and how factors associated with power imbalances (relating to age, gender and experiences with SV) may impact perceptions, along with barriers to prevention. Implications are discussed to advance prevention, in practice, research and policy as well as through social work education.
In particular, because social workers and workers in SV organizations were significantly less likely to correctly label a sexually violent scenario as SV, further training may be especially needed among these professionals, as is future research on potential factors relating to barriers to identifying and reporting SV. Further work in practice, research and policy may also be needed to address burnout among social workers and SV agency workers, to foster support for SV victims, especially in later life, which could aid prevention, especially among elders that are reliant upon social workers and caregivers owing to disability and issues with health and/or dementia.