Fifty people in residential care homes in Australia are sexually assaulted each week, an inquiry heard on Thursday.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is hearing the final submissions of a two-year long inquiry this week. It has heard reports of violence, neglect, malnourishment and abuse in care homes.
Peter Rozen QC, the counsel assisting the inquiry, said the figure was “a national shame”.
The spotlight was shone on the sector again recently with well over 600 deaths from Covid-19 in private care homes in Victoria, while the public sector facilities in the same state experienced very few cases of the coronavirus.
The Royal Commission heard that an estimated 2,520 cases of “unlawful sexual contact” occurred in 2018-19 alone.
The inquiry also heard there was a clear connection between staffing levels and quality of care. While publicly-owned care facilities, regulated by state governments, have strict staffing ratios – one nurse for seven to eight residents during the day, and one to fifteen residents during night shift in Victoria, for example – the private sector, regulated by the federal government, has no such rules.
Mr Rozen said the commission had received 588 submissions mentioning sexual assault, and that 426 allegations of sexual assault in residential care facilities were reported to the Federal Health Department in 2014-15, a number which rose to 790 in 2018-19.
“The increase in the reporting of allegations of assault was far greater than could be accounted for by the increase in the number of permanent residents over the same time period," he said.
Mr Rozen said the figures understated the extent of the problem, in part because an assault was not reportable if the alleged perpetrator was a fellow resident with a diagnosed cognitive or mental impairment, and the care provider had put in place arrangements to manage the alleged perpetrator's behaviour.
"Considering 50 per cent of people receiving residential care homes have a diagnosis of dementia, the effect of this exemption is likely to be significant," he said.
A reportable assault is either unlawful sexual contact with a resident of a care home, or unreasonable use of force on a resident of a care home.