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Vera Baird QC says ‘Sexual abuse against the elderly is a very real problem that must not be ignored’

21st September 2016

Vera Baird QC, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner and Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, says new figures about the scale of alleged sex offences taking place against elderly residents in care homes should act as a wakeup call – ‘this abuse is happening and can’t be ignored’ she has said.

Figures from forces across the country have revealed more than 2,000 suspected sex crimes (the majority being sexual assaults) were reported to have taken place in care homes between 2013 and 2015, which works out at two crimes per day. 48 were recorded in the Northumbria Police force area.

These figures were revealed by the BBC as part of Radio 4’s File on Four programme in a broadcast called ‘The Last Taboo?’ where reporters investigated whether the care industry is doing enough to protect the vulnerable.

According to the programme, most sexual assaults against elderly people happen in people’s own homes, but the second highest place identified is care homes, with crimes being committed by carers, family members and also resident on resident.

Vera Baird QC, said: “Some of our most vulnerable members of society live in care homes and we all have a responsibility to protect those incapable of protecting themselves. We’re talking about atrocious crimes against people who are often frail, vulnerable and in many cases lack the mental capacity to understand or communicate what has happened to them.

“These are real people – someone’s mum, grandmother, or auntie so I urge care workers and visitors to be vigilant and for anyone with any concerns to report them to the police.  In the eyes of the abuser these people are  easy targets. Abusers may think they will get away with it if someone is old or confused – we can’t let them.

“It really is the last taboo – society is finally accepting that this type of crime happens against children, it’s time to wake up and accept sexual violence does happen against the elderly and it’s vitally important that we raise awareness of it so we can do something about it.”

As part of the programme reporters visited a care home in Sunderland where DCI Shelley Hudson from Northumbria Police’s was delivering training to staff on what to do if they suspect abuse is occurring.

DCI Hudson is part of the force’s Safeguarding Department dedicated to investigating offences against those who are vulnerable, pursuing offenders and bringing them to justice. She said: “The concern for me is that it is being assumed this doesn’t happen to people over a certain age, well believe me it does. In fact, these figures are probably only skimming the surface of what is a very real issue. My advice to anyone with suspicions is that, as awful as it sounds, you have a responsibility to think the unthinkable could be happening and it needs investigating. No-one should turn a blind eye to this abuse.

“The majority of care homes we have in Northumbria are excellent but there are some who are more financially motivated than others who are reluctant to be investigated – fearing the publicity and financial implications if abuse is uncovered. I want to be clear – a call to us won’t mean we march down to the home and make arrests – our job is to assess the situation sensitively and appropriately to the circumstances. We are often presented with many challenges around capacity, consent and evidence and most importantly we need to ensure appropriate safeguarding measures are in place for the victim and fellow residents. It is the job of the police to investigate whether or not a crime has been committed – not the job of a care home.

“That’s why care homes  and employees need to be fully trained so they know what to do should such allegations arise. Having clear guidance and procedures is very important. For police, we need to be made aware of suspicions as soon as possible so we can investigate, provide support and ultimately put those who have committed an appalling crime behind bars.”

You can listen again to File on 4’s ‘The Last Taboo?’ investigation of sexual assaults against the elderly in care homes here

The programme will also be aired on repeat on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 25th September at 5pm.


Anyone with any concerns or wishing to report a crime should contact Northumbria Police on 101.