Norma’s Project was conceived in response to the experience of Norma, the mother of one of the four researchers involved in the project. Norma was a confused and vulnerable 83 year old woman who was sexually assaulted by a male staff member during a respite stay in a residential aged care facility in 2011. Norma was able to tell her story coherently and consistently, and she was able to identify her attacker. She was fortunate that her daughter and others, including police and sexual assault workers, listened and believed her account, tried to bring the perpetrator to justice, and worked hard to make her feel safe again. Nonetheless, given the lack of forensic evidence, the case against the perpetrator was not strong enough for a successful court action to be prosecuted.
The idea of older women as victims of sexual assault is relatively recent and little understood. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that, despite the silence that surrounds the topic, such assaults occur in many settings and circumstances. The lack of community awareness can be partly attributed to commonly held assumptions that older women are asexual. How, then, can they be the target of sexual assault? What is unimaginable and unacceptable becomes unsayable or invisible.
The significant gaps in knowledge about the sexual assault of older women present a major obstacle to the development of frameworks and strategies for prevention and intervention. Consequently the Norma’s Project research team sought funding from the Australian Department of Social Services to address the gaps and increase our understandings of the settings, social contexts and vulnerabilities associated with the sexual assault of older women. The project aims to increase awareness of this important issue both within the community and amongst service providers, and to strengthen the community’s ability to prevent, respond to and speak out about the sexual assault of older women.