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What can you do about ageism & sexism?

(Adapted from the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse)

Identify the myths and misinformation

Recognise the myths about ageing, sexism and the negative attitudes that go with them. Humans are sexual beings from birth to death and many older people enjoy healthy and active sex lives.  


It is also important to recognise that there is a lot of mythology about sexual violence too. There is no such thing as 'real rape' or an ideal victim. Anyone can experience sexual violence and Centres Against Sexual Violence are for older women too. Start challenging the myths when you hear them and always Start by Believing if someone discloses they have experienced Elder Sexual Abuse.


Go beyond the stereotypes

A label like "elderly" or "senior" does a poor job of describing a person. These labels do not tell us whether the person is kind or uncaring; healthy or sick; mentally capable, or a reliable or unreliable worker or volunteer. Labels do not tell us about the person’s capacity for friendship or creativity or accomplishment.


When we de-personalise older adults by referring to them generically as "the elderly" or "our seniors" we also make them invisible which can create an environment where abuse goes unnoticed. 

  • Recognise people as individuals.

  • Acknowledge things that limit a person’s abilities, but also recognise ways in which the person is not limited.

  • If a person is acting abusively don't excuse their behaviour because they are older. 


Learn more about positive ageing

The better informed we are about ageing and what to expect, the better able we are to evaluate and resist many of the inaccurate and negative stereotypes of ageing.

  • Get informed about physical, mental, social, sexual, and financial health for older adults.

  • Promote positive attitudes about ageing, healthy sexuality, and about the contributions of older adults to our society.


Learn more about ageism, sexism, and discrimination

It is common for older adults to face discrimination in housing, health, and other key services. Older adults are sometimes treated as burdens on services. They may be refused services based on their age or on assumptions about their needs and abilities. Sometimes people excuse poor treatment of older people because they believe they are a burden on the carer who 'just became overwhelmed'.

  • Learn to recognise when "neutral" policies aren’t neutral.

  • Recognise how ageism intersects with other "isms", such as sexism, racism, and abelism.

  • Listen to older adults who have experienced discrimination, especially older women and LGBTIQA+ community members. They are in the best position to tell us how this discrimination affects their lives.


Speak up

When ageism, sexism, and discrimination go unchallenged it gets harder to notice Elder Abuse of all kinds but especially Elder Sexual Abuse. It also becomes harder for people to speak up when they have experienced abuse. What might seem like small actions eg. offensive jokes actually set a foundation of excusing more serious behaviours.


People assume it is acceptable to act this way because behaviours and actions founded on the same discriminatory beliefs were excused.

  • When someone you know uses ageist or sexist language or images, tactfully point out the inaccuracy. Educate them about alternatives.

  • When someone ridicules an older adult, tells a belittling joke, or makes disrespectful comments, let them know that you are an advocate for positive ageing and that you find the comments offensive and harmful.

  • Pay attention to how older adults are portrayed in the media. When you see or hear a negative stereotype, speak up. Write a letter or e-mail to the editor, sponsor, or producer.

  • Remember, the standard you walk past is the standard you are prepared to accept.


Build intergenerational bridges

  • Elder Sexual Abuse thrives on ignorance. People who don’t have contact with others who are older or younger than themselves are more likely to believe the negative stereotypes which make it easier for them to dehumanise older people and excuse abuse and neglect. The lack of connection also increases isolation for older people who are cut off from support networks and protection. Reach out. Meet people of all ages and experiences.

  • Share stories, ideas, and skills—one-to-one and in groups. We all have things to teach and learn.

  • Embrace common causes that widen your circle and strengthen your community.

  • Recognise that when a group of people make you feel uncomfortable that is probably your bodies way of telling you you have a bias. Instead of avoiding them, lean in and get to know them.


Get connected

Elder Sexual Abuse is everybody’s business. If something doesn't seem right or someone you know discloses abuse, Start By Believing. 

Many older people find that staying involved with people and activities, can help them feel seen and valued. However, if there are people at those activities who make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe it can result in them retreating and losing contact with friends or even family. Staying active and involved also helps you stay healthy.

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