Elder Rape – It happens.

A woman was robbed and raped last week while bird-watching in Central Park. While any and every incident of rape is disturbing in itself, there are two additional unsettling details surrounding this particular attack: it occurred in broad daylight and the victim was 73 years old.

The victim knew her attacker; after she spotted the man nine days earlier publicly masturbating in the park, she snapped a photo and reported the indecency to a park ranger. The subsequent rape seemed to be an act of revenge, as the man asked, “Do you remember me?” before commencing his attack.

Though the assailant had a motive this time around, the incident was only one of many on his long rap sheet involving violence against elderly women. This raises the question – why elderly women? Of course, we all wonder why rape ever occurs. Society has mustered up a few theories, especially to explain the rape of young women: preoccupation with sex, pleasure, or, my favorite, that women, in some way, asked for it because we dress provocatively. But the rape of elderly women doesn’t comport with society’s explanations. There’s a widespread cultural stereotype that women over the age of 60 are not “attractive or desirable.” While this notion is entirely untrue (Farrah Fawcett was 62 and beautiful when she died), it could have faired well for elderly women in many ways. For example, given this notion, one would not expect women in this age group to remain as targets of sexual violence and rape. But they are.

In August, a man was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 77-year-old woman in Pennsylvania. In England, another man was recently charged with three counts of rape but police believe that he is responsible for more than 200 sexual assaults on women between the age of 68 and 89.

A 2009 report conducted by the National Institute of Justice yielded that approximately half of one percent of Americans over the age of 60 reported incidents of sexual assault within the previous year. Statistically, this is quite a low number. I agree with the experts, though, that people in this age group, especially women, simply don’t report acts of sexual assault or violence. They believe that police will not or cannot help them.

My question is, if elderly women in the United States do not feel that they can trust their police officers and rape investigation units, and thus do not “bother” to report incidents of violence, how many more women throughout the world feel the same way? My concern is for women in those countries – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan – where females are notoriously regarded as inferiors, where violence against women is frequently witnessed yet frequently ignored.

As a side note, who masturbates in Central Park?!

Article Access: The Daily Beast

For more on rape statistics: UN Secretary-General’s Campaign Unite to End Violence Against Women

2 comments

  1. If elderly women in the United States are reluctant to report being sexually assaulted or raped, I can only imagine how women in developing countries feel. Men and women are considered equal in our country, but women in other countries do not share this luxury. Rape is most likely more prevalent in these countries, because of the views that men have of women. Rape is almost accepted or expected by women in these countries. So why would they report it? This is no different for elderly women in these countries. If anything, elderly women know more about their country’s gender issues better than anyone else, because they have been going through it all their lives. I would imagine that it would be different in the United States, since we take rape very seriously. I think that elderly women become more embarrassed, and do not “bother” to report it, because they fear that no one will believe them. It is true that society is hesitant to believe elderly women, because the cultural stereotype is not generally “sexually attractive”. But, we can say the same thing about the sexual assault and rape of children. Most people do not find small children attractive or sexually desirable, but some do and this problem is also very prevalent in every country. We should take elderly rape just as seriously as we do child rape. They should be considered a “targeted group”, and maybe if the United States begins to take it more seriously then other countries will to.

  2. Having read this I believed it was very enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this information together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

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