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image captionAustralia is holding a national inquiry into aged care providers
An estimated 50 sexual assaults occur each week across Australia’s aged care sector, a national inquiry has heard.
Since 2019, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has uncovered widespread elder abuse and mistreatment.
On Thursday, investigators said about 2,520 sexual assaults had happened in residential nursing homes in 2018-2019.
“This is a national shame,” counsel Peter Rozen QC told the inquiry.
“As disturbing as these figures are, the evidence of the lack of follow-up by the Australian government department that receives the reports is, if anything, worse.”
Failures in the sector have drawn great scrutiny this year – more than 75% of Australia’s 903 coronavirus deaths have been aged care residents.
But Mr Rozen said evidence showed that “unlawful sexual conduct” had long been a concern, adding it was believed to affect 13-18% of aged care residents.
Many people had placed their older or vulnerable relatives in care homes in the belief it would be safer for them, he added.
“It is therefore entirely unacceptable that people in residential aged care face a substantially higher risk of assault than people living in community,” Mr Rozen said.
Overall, investigators estimated that over 32,000 assaults – physical, sexual and emotional – had occurred in a year in such homes.
The abuse was perpetrated by carers as well as other residents.
‘Unkind and uncaring’
The royal commission – Australia’s top form of inquiry – was established 2018 after a series of scandals in government-subsidised homes.
At the time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison predicted the findings were “going to be tough for us all to deal with” but that “you can’t walk past it”.
It received more than 10,000 public submissions which detailed concerns of staffing problems, inadequate care, and other matters.
Relatives and residents – including one aged 105 – have appeared before hearings to testify about traumatic experiences.
In a scathing interim report released last October and titled “Neglect” , the inquiry found the system had failed to care for “our older, often very vulnerable, citizens”.
“It does not deliver uniformly safe and quality care for older people. It is unkind and uncaring towards them. In too many instances, it simply neglects them,” wrote commissioners Richard Tracey and Lynelle Briggs at the time.
They blamed inadequate regulation and issues with staff being over-worked and under-resourced.
In August, in a special report on the pandemic’s impact, the commissioners described the sector as “traumatised”.
“Care workers develop close relationships with residents. Many are grieving for residents who have died after contracting Covid-19,” they wrote.