Information Processing of Sexual Abuse in Elders

Ann W. Burgess; Paul T. Clements


J Foren Nurs. 2006;2(3):113-120. 

In This Article

Rape Trauma Syndrome

Rape trauma syndrome describes the acute disorganization phase and long-term reorganization phase for adult rape victims. The oldest adult in the Burgess & Holmstrom (1974) sample was a 73-year-old woman who made a delayed report 6 weeks following the crime. She had been raped by a stranger and failed to report due to shock, embarrassment, humiliation, and lack of knowledge of where to report. She tried to manage her symptoms over the weeks but became increasingly overwhelmed and fearful that she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. This belief began to interfere with her ability to be around her grandchildren for fear she would expose them to a disease. She finally sought medical attention from her physician who told her he did not know how to treat rape but knew the Boston City Hospital did. Thus, she arrived at the hospital as a rape victim and was included in the study. She was also interviewed in the follow-up study 4 years later and described long-lasting symptoms of fears, phobias, and lingering health concerns.

Although sexual assault of elders has likely been ongoing throughout time, it is clearly recognized as both a contemporary and emergent public health issue requiring increased awareness, comprehensive and sensitive assessment, and foundational approaches for effective intervention to promote adaptive coping and mental health (Vierthaler, 2004). In direct response to this need, this paper reports on descriptive data from elder victims to answer the research question: What post-trauma symptoms can be noted in records of elder victims of sexual assault?


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