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Information Processing of Sexual Abuse in Elders

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Nursing Volume: 2 Issue: 3 Dated: Fall 2006 Pages: 113-120
Date Published
8 pages

This study identified posttrauma symptoms in the medical records of elderly victims of sexual assault.


The most frequently reported and observed post-trauma symptom was numbness (n=27), sometimes described by family members as "shock." Physical disturbances were experienced by 25 victims. These included disturbances in appetite and eating, sleep patterns, and mood levels. The startle reflex was found in 14 victims. Although elderly victims of sexual assault are less likely than younger victims to verbalize anger, the behavior of 12 of the victims was described as agitated, restless, or hostile. Those who knew and/or observed these victims before and after the assault noted that this behavior was not characteristic of the person until after the assault. The fact that so few post-trauma symptoms were documented for the 284 sexually abused elders suggests a lack of observation by staff and/or family members. The forensic nurse is uniquely qualified to provide an insightful and comprehensive assessment of any changes in the behavior and psychological states of elderly victims of sexual assault. The study involved a retrospective record review of 284 cases of documented elder sexual abuse. The cases involved persons age 60 and older who had been involved in a nonconsensual physical sexual act, including sexual assaults by strangers. The SPAN scale was used to document the following posttraumatic symptoms: startle, physiological upset, anger, and numbness. Most of the cases, however, did not have sufficient data to determine SPAN symptoms. For a small number of cases that had nursing home records available or information from family members, SPAN symptoms were recorded. 68 references

Date Published: January 1, 2006