Elderly victims of sexual violence: A neglected victim group?

Project period

2004 – 2005

Project staff

Dr. Thomas Görgen (Projektleitung)

Dr. Sandra Herbst

Dipl.-Soz.wiss. Barbara Nägele

Ref. iur. Antje Newig


Niedersächsisches Landesamt für Zentrale Soziale Aufgaben (NLZSA)

Project description

That senior citizens also fall victim to sexual violence is a social problem area subject to strong taboos. KFN first looked at available international research on sexual violence against elderly people (Görgen & Nägele, 2003). An explorative, multi-method study looked at offences involving sexual victimisation, the institutional response to such cases and the help available to elderly victims of sexual violence.

The study was based on the following data sources:

  • Aggregate data from police crime statistics on offences against sexual self-determination of persons aged 60 and over
  • Case data stored by the state criminal police offices of Lower Saxony and Baden-Württemberg on victim-suspect relations in violent sexual offences
  • 122 case files stored by the Lower Saxony public prosecution service involving sexual victimisation of persons aged 60 and over investigated by the police in the years 2000 to 2003
  • Questionnaire-based surveys of 76 institutions (other than the police and the judiciary) which on the basis of their work and responsibilities were assumed to come into professional contact with elderly victims of sexual violence
  • 21 in-depth interviews with practitioners and experts with experience in the subject or with specific cases of sexual victimisation of elderly and very old people
  • Media reports on 157 cases of sexual offences against elderly people from the period April 2000 to July 2004

The analysis of these datasets shows that, including where institutions outside the judiciary system are involved. The police and the judiciary have very limited experience with elderly victims of sexual offences. People aged 60 and over were rarely registered with the police as victims of an offence against their sexual self-determination. Elderly women were a minority among the clientele of women’s refuges, women’s hotlines and similar institutions, and very rarely reported experience of sexual violence.

The study revealed the structure of reported offences (not only those reported through the criminal justice system). It became clear that in the period covered by the study, the cases processed by the police and the judiciary differed fundamentally from those handled by protection and help-providing institutions operating outside the criminal justice system. Of the cases of sexual offences against elderly people which were known to the police, most involved exhibitionism, and a smaller number were actual sexual offences in which the perpetrator or suspect was not known or only marginally known to the victim. In an equally small number of cases, women’s refuges, women’s emergency hotlines and similar services primarily dealt with serious forms of sexual violence in close relationships. A significant number of these offences involved ongoing victimisation by the spouses or partners of elderly people, where sexual violence and sexual force are facets of an overarching pattern of violence, humiliation and control.

The study provides information to explain the extent to which the low number of reported offences against elderly people can be seen as the result of low reporting levels.

The key consequences arising from the study point to the need for action in the following areas:

  • General public relations work aimed at creating awareness to the fact that elderly people can also fall victim to sexual violence
  • Target-group specific information, sensitisation and education for selected occupational groups – primarily doctors, care staff, pastoral workers, counsellors in certain psychosocial institutions, and police (particularly those who regularly deal with or are specialised in domestic violence).
  • Informal advisory and help services for elderly victims of sexual (and other) violence. Informality implies a high degree of thematic openness. Visibly broad and open access relieves those seeking advice and help from having to classify, define and name their problem from the outset. This is why highly specialised institutions are less suitable, especially given elderly people’s tremendous fear of stigmatisation in making use of an emergency hotline for elderly victims of rape.
Project related publications
  • Görgen, T. & Nägele, B. (2003). Ältere Menschen als Opfer sexualisierter Gewalt (KFN-Forschungsberichte Nr. 89). Hannover: Kriminologisches Forschungsinstitut Niedersachsen.
  • Görgen, T., Newig, A., Nägele, B. & Herbst, S. (2005). “Jetzt bin ich so alt und das hört nicht auf”: Sexuelle Viktimisierung im Alter (KFN-Forschungsbericht Nr. 95). Hannover: Kriminologisches Forschungsinstitut Niedersachsen.
  • Görgen, T., Herbst, S., Nägele, B., Newig, A., Kemmelmeier, I., Kotlenga, S., Mild, N., Pigors, K. & Rabold, S. (2005). “Ich habe gehofft, das wird besser mit den Jahren”: Sexuelle Gewalterfahrungen älterer Frauen (KFN-Materialien für die Praxis, Nr. 1). Hannover: Kriminologisches Forschungsinstitut Niedersachsen.