Research prompted the first national study of rape and sexual assault of people over 60, highlighting this hidden, unrecorded offence and increasing support for victims.

Impacts

  • Dr Hannah Bows' findings influenced the Office for National Statistics' decision to trial the collection of statistics on sexual violence for the over 60s in its Crime Survey for England and Wales. Previously, the survey only collected data on sexual and domestic violence for those up to the age of 59.
  • Her information handouts raising awareness of sexual violence against older people and providing guidance for practitioners are being distributed to all rape crisis and age-related organisations in the UK.
  • Her survivor information guide has been sent to those organisations as well as all social services, Safeguarding Adults Boards and care homes in the UK.
  • Dr Bows has devised and delivered practitioner training workshops for Rape Crisis England and Wales, and Age UK.
  • Her finding that one in five of older people rapes occur in a care home received national press and media coverage, including on BBC News, ITV News and BBC Radio 4. Her research was recently discussed by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

"As a consequence of sharing Dr Bows’ research our service received a referral from Age UK for a female survivor of sexual violence who is 89 years of age." (Alison Boydell, Support After Rape & Sexual Violence Leeds)

About the research

“It's not just young people who suffer sexual violence - older people get raped too,” says Dr Hannah Bows. The issue was largely unrecognised before Dr Bows began to search for statistics on sexual violence against older people in the UK as part of her PhD.

“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 not,” she explains.

Through Freedom of Information requests she gathered data from 45 police forces, finding around 150 rape and serious assaults involving an adult aged 60 or over reported annually to the police across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Her findings revealing the number of assaults have surprised many.

“The crime was almost invisible,” she points out. “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.”

In reality, Dr Bows believes the true figure is actually much higher, as rape is one of the most underreported crimes. According to her study, most rapes happened in the victim's home, although the second most common location was a care home. Two-thirds of perpetrators were younger than their victim and only one fifth of older people were raped by a stranger.

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