Margaret’s resilience following sexual assault

As the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety kicks off Caxton Legal Centre watches closely with the hope that real change will be affected through the process.  A case study from Caxton’s Seniors Legal and Support Service (SLASS) below highlights some of the specific vulnerabilities faced by older people who depend on services for care or accommodation.

Margaret Solis resided at a senior’s rental accommodation facility when the acting manager sexually assaulted her. Margaret experienced ongoing trauma and stress following the assault and her health was suffering due to hyper-vigilance and sleeplessness.  Post-traumatic stress disorder sustained during Margaret’s WWII service as a nurse may also have been triggered by the assault.

The permanent manager did not believe Margaret, in her nineties, when she complained about the assault. Instead, it was suggested to her she must have had a urinary tract infection and been confused.  Margaret immediately saw her doctor to obtain results of her recent urine test (all clear) and a report as to her mental capacity (again, no evidence of problems).

Later Margaret found out that two other residents had been assaulted by the same man.

SLASS learnt that Margaret had already engaged with police who were actively involved.  She was determined to make a statement to police and follow through to try to have the alleged offender charged.

Margaret felt unsafe in her home but was daunted by the prospect of hunting for an alternative rental and the costs and logistics of moving.  Her fears were reasonable given that:

  • the acting manager who assaulted her was a friend of the permanent manager who discounted Margaret’s complaint to them about her assault
  • the acting manager knew where the spare keys for her unit were kept
  • Margaret wanted a new lock but management wouldn’t allow her to have her own unique key for health and safety reasons
  • her requests for pieces of dowel to put in the sliding window tracks were rejected (“they said everyone will want them if get them”).

Fortunately, a local senior citizens program actively helped Margaret to find alternative housing and offered practical support to help her pack, move and settle in. Margaret relocated to a residential aged care facility soon after SLASS met her where she felt safe, could sleep soundly and could get on with her life.

With the help of police, Margaret’s assailant was found guilty of two charges of sexual assault.  SLASS referred Margaret to Victim Assist where she could apply for further help.

Although Margaret hadn’t been living in government subsidized aged care when she was assaulted, she faced ageist attitudes and her human rights were discounted by others with vested interests. This can and does happen in the community as well as institutional  settings.

Margaret was well supported by local and specialist services and was resilient and determined. She had a good sense of her own rights to be safe and refused to back down. We need the Australian community to stand up for people like Margaret and especially seniors who are less capable an unable to self-advocate.