Aiman from Hourglass speaks to BBC Radio on the abuse of older people in South Asian Communities, EastEnders and more

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Aiman BBC

Last month, our Community Response Coordinator for Wales spoke to Rena Annabil on BBC local radio on the abuse of older people in South Asian communities, the recent EastEnders storyline and more.

Rena: Now, I don't know if you've been watching Eastenders recently, but they had a very harrowing storyline recently which came to a disturbing climax last week. Patrick Trueman's wife Yolande was sexually assaulted by Pastor Clayton, a man in a position of authority that she trusted. I was close to tears watching it and I know many are the same. 


Elder abuse is something that we don't see on screen a lot or even talk about, particularly within the South Asian community. Today, I’m speaking to Aiman Sajid from Hourglass. Hi Aiman, can you tell me a little bit about Hourglass?


Aiman: We are the UK's only charity based on the neglect and abuse of older people, we have a 24/7 helpline and our main aim is to end the abuse, harm and exploitation of older people in the UK.


Rena: So let's talk about the Eastenders storyline, abuse and grooming of older women, that's what this storyline has focused on. Why is so little known about this issue?

Aiman: Abuse and sexual abuse is sometimes not highlighted enough. While the Eastenders storyline is fictional, rape and sexual abuse of older people is very real. Too often we have ageist assumptions that sexual abuse is something that can only affect younger people. 

Sometimes what we hear from sexual abuse survivors are that they feel judged for being sexually active as well as being judged by professionals. Some of my colleagues have been told by sexual abuse survivors that people have said to them 'who would do that you'?, implying that they're not sexually attractive and that wouldn't happen to them. But we do know that abuse is about control and dominance, not about physical appearance.


Rena: So Aiman we were speaking about abuse of older women and the grooming of older women, they do face quite a lot of judgment sometimes if they do come forward right?


Aiman: Yes absolutely, so I was speaking about how they face judgment not only from their family, friends, community but as well as professionals. Sometimes professionals have that unconscious bias that they are not as sexually active, that they are not attractive enough to be abused but abuse is about control and dominance, not about physical appearance. 

We also know that public attitudes also fuel this, as Hourglass research shows that 35% of the UK public did not believe that an inappropriate or unwanted sexual comment directed towards an older person is abuse. More often than not, we find that there is not only one perpetrator but multiple perpetrators as well.


Rena: There's also a lot of the same isn't there and protecting the family when it comes to speaking out about this, am i right?


Aiman: Yeah absolutely, so all older victims, not only older women have unique barriers but we are aware that people from the global majority, especially women from South Asian backgrounds have additional layers of barriers. Some of them are related to language barriers, where there's a lack of correct terminology around abuse and there are cultural barriers around shame and bringing dishonour to the family.


A lot of time the perpetrator is related or has a standing in the community, so reporting abuse can lead to them being shunned from the community and it can lead to a breakdown of relationships and their whole community network. There is a lack of support and understanding for professionals in some areas where there's not enough support for women experiencing abuse from South Asian communities.


Rena: So when I watched this storyline on EastEnders, and I keep talking about the EastEnders storyline because that's where it came to my attention, the whole issue of grooming and sexual abuse of older women. Now I started thinking about places of worship, because Yolande in EastEnders was abused by someone in a position of authority in the church and you know, a lot of our elders in the South Asian community, they do spend a lot of time in places of worship, whether it's Gurdwaras, Mandirs or part of community groups. What are the dangers of grooming or things to look out for, how we can protect our elders.


Aiman: So absolutely you're right with the story in Eastenders, abuse can be done by religious figures and that has additional layers and dynamics of abuse. So usually that's why victims are reluctant to reach out for help and find tailored support because sometimes, especially with people from global majorities, churches or places of worship, Gurdwaras or temples are the only places they go to socialize where they feel connected to their heritage or their religion and not have access to that can lead to a lot of physical and emotional issues.


In terms of a lack of understanding around people using religion as a weapon to justify the abuse or using religious scripture and taking it out of context and using it to justify their bad behaviour or abuse towards other people so guilt tripping people and sexual abuse can go hand in hand with scriptural abuse and religious abuse.


Rena: How can families support someone who has been through this type of abuse, where can they go for help?


Aiman: So they can look out for some of the signs and not all of these will be present but the things they can look out for in terms of physical signs such as bruising around their thighs or their private parts. If they've suddenly been experiencing unexplained venereal diseases such as UTIs or frequent urination, if they have unusual difficulty walking, standing or sitting when they were fine before. 


But it's also important to know it doesn't always manifest physically and someone can experience sexual abuse without physical signs or symptoms. So things to look out for in that context would be if there's sudden changes in their behavior, not enjoying things they used to or they're fearful around certain places or certain people, withdrawing and not speaking. That's where the family member can possibly chat with them and signpost them to specialist services.


Rena: So, it is quite difficult listening to all of the things that you have described, all the signs and things people might go through, to be honest it is difficult to hear that. But it's really important to hear it and we do have a duty to protect family members and elders in our community so I think that it is crucial information that you've shared here. If people want to get in touch with Hourglass, can you share the details?


Aiman: Yes absolutely, so we have a 24/7 free helpline number, our number is 0808 808 8141 which you can call at any time and we will signpost depending on your local area and where you can go for help. We do have ISVAs in some areas but it is best to call the helpline so you can get tailored support.


Rena: Thank you so much Aiman for coming on and speaking to me about this. 


Aiman: Thank you for having me.