Sexual violence in older adults : a Belgian prevalence study

Authors & affiliation

Anne Nobels, Adina Cismaru-Inescu, Laurent Nisen, Bastien Hahaut, Marie Beaulieu, Gilbert Lemmens, Christophe Vandeviver, Ines Keygnaert


Background Sexual violence (SV) is an important public health issue which may cause long-lasting health problems. Previous studies show low SV prevalence numbers in older adults as they focus on criminal cases or conflate it with other types of violence into the broader context of elder abuse and neglect, domestic violence or intimate partner violence. Yet, research on SV in older adults from a public health perspective, providing valid SV prevalence numbers and correlates, is currently lacking. To our knowledge, this study is the first to assess lifetime and SV in the past 12-months, correlates, assailant characteristics and its framing in older adults. Methods Data were collected through structured face-to-face interviews with 513 older adults of 70 years and older living in Belgium (community-dwelling and nursing home residents). Participants were selected via a cluster random probability sampling with a random route finding approach. SV was measured using behaviourally specific questions based on a broad definition of SV, including sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and (attempted) rape. Results Lifetime SV prevalence was 44% (55% F, 29% M). Past 12-months prevalence was 8% (9% F, 8% M). Female sex (p <.001) and a higher number of sexual partners (p <.05) were associated with lifetime SV, non-heterosexual sexual orientation with past 12-months SV (p <.05). Correlates generally linked to elder abuse and neglect did not seem to be linked with SV. ‘Someone unknown’ was identified as most common assailant. In 47.6% of SV cases and 28.1% of rape cases, victims perceived it as ‘just something that happened’. Conclusions SV appears to be common in older adults in Belgium. Both correlates and assailant characteristics seem to differ from previous studies on elder abuse and neglect. Recognising older adults as a risk group for sexual victimisation in research, policies and practices seems of the utmost importance.

Publication date:


Staff members:

Ines Keygnaert
Anne Nobels

Link to publication

Open link

Related publications