Webinar presenter La Shae Brown answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Across the LifeSpan: Serving Older Survivors of Sexual Violence (part 1). Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: What are some agencies doing to help raise the awareness of elder sexual assault? What ideas or educational methods are you seeing especially creative once given our day and age of COVID?
LaShae Brown: I think it’s about how we use to outreach, right? What does outreach look like for someone who might have limited access to a car? Or someone who doesn’t leave their house very often? Or relies on someone else to help them with their basic needs? So, maybe that means masking up and still doing those. Knocking on people’s doors, maybe it’s still doing those old-fashioned phone calls. And just also, being aware that people might not answer, because, if you don’t know why a stranger is calling you, presumably to ask very personal questions. You might not want to talk right? But people do read flyers that they put in their mailboxes. Victoria, one of my former colleagues, her grandmother, mailed her a flyer from the local sexual violence program right that she saw, so they are seeing them. We just really have to think about, if I wasn’t able to leave my house, I’m not comfortable using the internet. How would I still be comfortable and able to get the information that I needed?
Audience Question: Have you seen other people doing presentations like in retirement home facilities, or even some of those social groups that older people might be a part of?
LaShae Brown: Yes, we have. Especially, when we’re thinking about our local Senior Centers, partnering with them is a great way to get to do outreach, and even maybe co-host some events, right? So, let’s just not a random sexual assault advocate is talking to them for the first time when something happens. It’s me LaShae, who does the karaoke every Friday night, and I know she has these services, though I’m not sure which, but I want to talk to her, right. Making yourself a familiar presence at the place that older adults actually frequent.
Audience Question: When we’re talking about the data and the perpetrators. Are the perpetrators typically older than the victim? Or of the same age group as the victim? Or are they younger?
LaShae Brown: Yeah, I’m not quite sure on the actual ages of those who are perpetrating sexual violence against older adults. If we think about the age of the older adult, we can presume that a lot of them are younger, because they would be the caretakers. But, yeah, I don’t actually know what the data is, finding about the actual age of those who perpetrate sexual violence for this population. That’s a great question.
Audience Question: How should we handle it when we hear our peers doing victim-blaming? Do you have some suggestions on how to correct the situation or how to handle this awkward situation?
LaShae Brown: Yes, it’s actually something that appears to be very awkward to confront, but one of my favorite strategies is to ask questions and ask people, what do you mean by that and have them explain it. And then by the time they usually do, they can see that “Oh, maybe I said something wrong or I’m victim-blaming myself,” just to correct them maybe even passively, so they’re saying, “If she knew her caretaker was stealing money from her, then why should keep letting you in the house?” Like, it sounds like she actually needed help, and that was the help that was available to her, right? So just go ahead and really try to empathize with what they mean sometimes really helps and just to correct it that way.
Audience Question: LaShae, one of the common responses people shared during your open-ended question was the reality that people may not report because they’re dependent on the caregiver. What kinds of support services are available to help adult victims if their perpetrator happens to be their caregiver or a close family? Or what do you recommend if some of these small communities don’t have a lot of support services?
LaShae Brown: There’s a lot of interest in that one question. So, for a person in a care facility. They should have some policies and procedures, and there should be access and information about reporting located within the facility. And also, they should have access to a phone and to communicate with other people, as well. Whether that be a social worker, whether that’s you, some other social service agency, they should have access to interact with other people. If it’s a family member, that’s a little bit more tricky, right? Because we’re not really regulating our family members the same way that we regulate these care facilities, and even then, things still slip through the cracks at these locations. So, I would suggest, again, making sure that we’re really focusing on that outreach and building relationships with older adults so that they know that they can communicate with us, not as much as they need to find us but that we are easily accessible for them. I think there was a second part to that question, Chris if you could repeat it. Sorry.
Audience Question: It was relating to the smaller communities who may not have a lot of support services available, what do you recommend, if anything?
LaShae Brown: Yeah. I used to work in a rural program. We have to be that support, right? I know our role might be very specific, but if we need to partner with others and that means that as we are in rural and small communities, we’re probably going to have to wear another hat, right? That means we might be responsible for doing the outreach to older adults or we and another agency are responsible for responding to older adults. Those will handle older adult benefits or just do extracurricular activities with them, right? That’s a way that we can make sure that even though we might have limited services partnering and make sure that people can go through no wrong door, right? They’re able to access services no matter who they’re talking to within our community.
Audience Question: Adult care facilities seem like they might be the right place for opportunities for sexual assault. Have you seen any statistics specific to sexual assault in these adult care facilities?
LaShae Brown: So, yes and no, right? Some adult care facilities willingly report. Some complaints happen or when they’re doing investigations and things of the sort, right? But we know that often, the majority of sexual violence isn’t reported. So even the spaces that we do have information available are often skewed and very much underestimated because people aren’t coming forward and disclosing for a variety of reasons which we talked about.
Audience Question: Sexual assault is part of elder abuse, right? It fits within that umbrella of types of elder abuse, is that true?
LaShae Brown: Yes.
Audience Question: Okay. So, then, the second question. So, then, when we have these incidents, should we also be reaching out to, like, these multi-disciplinary teams who specialize in elder abuse?
LaShae Brown: Absolutely, and they might have some resources. And they may already have those already built-in relationships that we could use and help bridge the gap between our services and their services, right? When we have those collaborations. It just makes that process easier and more streamlined for the survivors. And so, we’re all aware of what services that the other offers. So, again, then we could collaborate.
Audience Question: Can you give some ideas or recommendations on how we can begin a conversation to best assist individuals? How do we start this really delicate conversation?
LaShae Brown: Yeah. So, I really, really, really hope you come back for part two because we’re going to really just be focusing on those services in part two. That’s what part two is really all about. But sometimes it really always starts with forming that relationship, right? I know that I would not be comfortable talking to my southern Baptist grandmother about sexual violence, right? She would tell me, that’s not my business. She would probably tell me off because I’m her granddaughter, right? And what do I know about her experiences? But if we were able to talk about something different like, “Grandma, I really want to learn about this recipe that you taught me when I was younger. Or do you remember when you came when I was born, and we did this right?” Really focusing on that relationship, talking about the harder issue, then maybe some uncomfortable topics will come up once that relationship is formed, right? Asking directly cannot and scare people and make them more frustrated and anxious and can be traumatic, especially if they don’t know you. They are concerned about what’s going to happen if they tell, right? They might be protecting someone, even someone who’s passed away, which can be a reality for older adults, right? They want to protect their reputation. So, we just want to be aware that I’m really focused on building that relationship and also, building that understanding, right? If you tell me, this is what’s going to happen, right? I want to help you find resources. We might not be able to do X, Y, and Z, but I can help you with this. And I’m going to be here to support you, even through this tough conversation. If you don’t want to talk to me about it today or we’re talking about it too much, just let me know. And we can finish at a different time, right? Making sure that we’re reinforcing the options that they have as well is really important.