7 February 2024

Illawarra Women's Health Centre helps tackle aged care assaults

| Zoe Cartwright
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Miranda Batchelor

Miranda Batchelor will help facilitate a body mapping workshop for women over 55 at the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre. Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

Fifty women in aged care are assaulted each week in Australia and the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre is helping their voices be heard.

The centre, in partnership with the Older Women’s Network NSW (OWN NSW) will host a body mapping workshop for women over 55, as part of the ‘Hear Our Voices’ campaign.

Project coordinator Deb Barndon said many older women often weren’t supported when they reported abuse, and sexual abuse was particularly complex.

“Often when older women report sexual assault they aren’t believed, especially if the offender is a care worker or someone in a position of authority in the facility,” Deb said.

“Other times, an older woman might not be as direct, so instead of saying, ‘I have been sexually assaulted’, she might use language like ‘my husband is being a real pest in the bedroom’.

“If service providers like GPs don’t pick up on those cues, or don’t know what to look out for, they won’t get the support they need.”

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Deb said the body mapping workshops were the first of their kind in NSW, and would help service providers develop a better understanding of how older women related to their bodies and sexuality.

The first one has already been run in Penrith, with the next one scheduled for the Illawarra, appropriately on Galentine’s Day, 13 February.

The sessions are opened by a talk from a psychologist about ageism, before the women are each given an outline of a body and craft supplies.

They’re asked to decorate their outline in a way that shows how they view their bodies, their identity, gender, sexuality, power and history of intimate relationships.

Each woman is then invited to share the story of her body map, and if they consent, a photo is taken of the map and used to help develop training materials and resources for frontline workers who support older women through trauma.

A body map produced at an earlier workshop.

A body map produced at an earlier workshop. Photo: Older Women’s Network.

Miranda Batchelor at the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre (IWHC) said the session had booked out so quickly they were hoping to schedule a second.

“We have women attending that range in age from 55 to 86,” she said.

“They all feel really passionately about it, it’s incredible. The feedback we’ve gotten is older women have a really strong desire to support other women and give back.

“Older women are often forgotten in discussions around wellbeing and sexuality, and this is a great way to reconnect with their bodies and build that confidence.”

The workshops are in partnership with Celebrate Ageing and received funding from the NSW Government.

Deb said the funding was welcome as older women were often left out of domestic and family violence support services.

“In NSW and nationally a lot of the focus is on violence against younger women, and children,” Deb said.

“This is about the intersection that occurs between ageism, discrimination and domestic violence.

“We see this as an opportunity to provide targeted solutions that include older women and improve things more broadly.”

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