Why Do Young Men Rape Elderly Women? and Why Does Nobody Care?
Grant, Linda, The Independent (London, England)
LATE last November, an 84-year-old widow was asleep in an armchair in her house in Camden, north London, when a man broke in. He threatened her with a carving knife, then beat and raped her. He left her trapped in a wardrobe which he turned door-side down on to the floor, piling furniture on top of it; she was only freed when a neighbour became suspicious about a smashed window and called the police. A 17-year-old has been charged and will be tried in the summer.
Exactly a week later, a 71-year-old woman in Daventry, Northamptonshire, was woken up and raped at knifepoint by an intruder. Two weeks after that, on Christmas Eve, a man visiting his 83-year-old spinster aunt on a council estate in Southwark, south London, became concerned when there was no reply to his knock on the door. He called the police who broke in and found the woman also trapped in a wardrobe, having been sexually assaulted.
There are no figures for the numbers of sexual attacks on the elderly because the Home Office does not categorise its rape statistics by age. We may imagine that the rape of elderly women is a rare, horrible and peculiarly unnatural crime, but it is not. Looking at newspaper cuttings covering the past two or three years, it becomes clear that the rape of older women is not only commonplace but that the number of reported incidents are increasing.
On Christmas Day 1991 a severely disabled 70-year-old woman was raped in Sussex. In January 1992 a man was jailed for nine years for raping the 66-year-old housekeeper of a Catholic priest. The following month a Worcester man was jailed for life after sexually assaulting an 88-year-old, punching her in the eye and mouth and slitting her clothes from the chest down. He had already served an eight-year sentence for raping a 50-year-old woman. In April 1992, Manchester Police investigated what the police authority's chairman Stephen Murphy called "the worst case of its kind I have ever heard of". An 88-year-old widow was left with a fractured skull, two broken ribs and other injuries after a four-hour attack in which she was kicked, battered and bitten by two men who raped her three times, forcing her to carry out what newspapers called "a series of perverted sex acts". In June of that year, a 16-year-old was convicted at Norwich Crown Court of the rape of a woman aged 100.
What are we to make of it? Here are women not young, not sexually desirable by society's norms, beyond the menopause, still being considered fair game by rapists. What do the experts say - the psychologists, the specialists in the treatment of sex offenders, rape counsellors, Victim Support, national charities that promote the interests of older people?
Nothing. The Prison Service could find no psychiatrists in their own sexual offender treatment programmes who could offer any opinion on the subject. Victim Support and Age Concern can offer no insight into the crime. There is no research, there are no studies of the after-effects of rape among elderly women. Despite the large amount of literature on date rape, there is almost nothing on the rape of older women. As one American study on the treatment of rape victims, published in 1991, admits: "The sexual assault of older women has received little attention in the rape literature. As a result there is paucity of information on the incidence and characteristics of sexual victimisation of the elderly and of the resulting psychological effects."
ON the face of it, the rape of the elderly should have merited more attention because it is a particularly violent crime. Between 60 and 70 per cent of all reported rapes are acquaintance rape, where the attacker is known to the victim. But the rapes of elderly women usually follow a scenario where a young man forcibly enters the woman's home, threatens or carries out physical violence, steals money or jewellery and leaves her where she may not be found for hours, or even days if she lives alone. …