Aged care activists say a new government reporting system will mean that some assaults in aged care are not reported for up to a month.
Advocate Yumi Lee says new tool that gives guidance to aged care providers on the timeframe for reporting sexual assaults is “mind-boggling”
Previous research by KPMG has found about 50 sexual assaults happened each week in aged care during 2018-19
A spokesperson for the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission says it is continuing to review and refine the tool with stakeholders
The new reporting tool is a part of the Aged Care Safety and Quality Commission’s Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS).
In practice, the reporting tool allows aged care providers to decide if an incident has had a serious impact on a resident, even if the alleged perpetrator is a staff member.
When advocate against elder abuse Dr Catherine Barrett began to explore the tool, she said she became extremely worried as she clicked through the program that it was sending the wrong message to aged care providers.
“I was horrified and I thought it must be a mistake,” she told the ABC’s The World Today program.
“I can’t imagine why else it would be in there.
“We know from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s fact sheet on sexual assault that any sexual activity between a staff member and a resident is considered sexual assault and, so, then I think it needs to be treated seriously.”
The tool classifies incidents into two categories. If the incident is classified as priority one, it must be reported within 24 hours to police and the commission. If it is priority two, it must be reported within a month.
Dr Barrett — who is the founder of Celebrate Ageing — said it was even more alarming in the context of what is known about attitudes in the sector to sexual assault reporting.
She said that previous research conducted for the commission found that 58 per cent of aged care staff thought there were no negative impacts of sexual assault on residents.
“We’re concerned that staff will use the decision tool to reinforce their view that there are no negative impacts and that they don’t need to do anything.”
New tool is ‘mind-boggling’, says advocate
In a year where so much public discussion of sexual assault has moved the conversation forward, the tool and the wording used by it appeared to be behind the times, according to the manager of the Older Women’s Network (OWN) in NSW, Yumi Lee.
“The thing that really upsets us about this new system is the fact that it allows the providers the luxury to say if a woman who has been sexually assaulted is impacted by it or not,” Ms Lee said.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how young you are, they should never, ever be an opportunity for a care provider to be given the luxury to see that sexual assault has had no impact on the victim.
“We are now a few weeks after the Women’s Safety Summit, and it is completely mind-boggling that sexual assaults of all the women in aged care, they’re not taken seriously.”
Ms Lee said all sexual assaults should be reported within 24 hours of providers becoming aware of them. She said this was important to protect victims who, she said, were mostly older women, from being subject to further assaults.
“We have cases where, if another person who is cognitively impaired assaults the older woman, there has to be a mechanism whereby the home can separate the perpetrator from the victim.
“Sadly, up to 40 per cent of aged care residents, they don’t get a single visitor for 365 days of the year.
“This means that you have this group of neglected older people with no one there to care about them to see if their behaviour has changed to see if they’re distressed in any way.”
‘A national shame’
At the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the number of sexual assaults in aged care homes was described as a “national shame” by counsel assisting the commission Peter Rozen.
A study by KPMG estimated there were around 50 sexual assaults in aged care every week during 2018-19.
Dr Barrett said that, knowing these alarming figures, made it difficult to understand how the reporting tool was helping the situation.
“There has been a great outcry from the community about sexual assault in residential aged care, and we know the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety received 588 submissions talking about sexual assault,” Dr Barrett said.
ACQSC ‘continuing to refine’ its tool
In a statement to the ABC, a spokesperson said the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) was continuing to review and refine the tool with input of stakeholders.
“The SIRS decision support tool asks questions that reflect the criteria for a reportable incident under the SIRS, as defined in the legislation,” a spokesperson said.
“Where an incident is likely to be of a criminal nature, such as sexual assault, regardless of where it occurs, it is expected that the approved provider will report the incident to police and to the commission within 24 hours of the provider becoming aware of the incident.
“This expectation is clearly drawn to attention in the SIRS decision support tool through inclusion of the question, ‘Are there reasonable grounds to report the incident to the police?'”
The spokesperson said it was ultimately the responsibility of the aged care provider to comply with legislation and report incidents in a timely manner and that the tool was meant to provide only general guidance.
Ms Lee said that any system had to empower women to come forward.
“Older women tell us they want to be safe. They say they deserve to be safe. They are afraid and they’re afraid of speaking up because they don’t want to upset their providers.
“If this situation were replicated for any other age group, there would be an outcry in the community.
“Can you imagine if we have a situation where there are 50 sexual assaults taking place in schools every week? Do you think parents would keep quiet?”
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