A Critical Exploration of Unwanted Sexual Attention in Residential Long-Term Care Homes

Friday, 20 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Alisa GRIGOROVICH, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada
Pia KONTOS, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute - University Health Network, Canada
Female workers in residential long-term care homes frequently experience unwanted sexual attention from residents of these homes. These experiences can be difficult for workers to manage, and can negatively impact their health, occupational outcomes, and care relations. Despite these negative outcomes, limited research has explored these experiences of workers. This presentation reports on the preliminary results of an ethnographic study of unwanted sexual attention in a care home in Ontario, Canada. Data collected include participant observation and in-depth interviews with 23 workers of diverse professions (e.g. personal support, nursing) and roles (e.g. direct care, management) as well as a discursive analysis of relevant documents (e.g. legislation, professional practice standards and guidelines, descriptions of educational curriculums). Document analysis suggests that current legislation, education and training privilege the vulnerability of residents, to the exclusion of attention to the vulnerability of workers to harm. Further, review of educational curriculums shows that workers receive little direct instruction regarding how to manage sexual and intimate boundaries and respond to sexual advances in the context of providing care. Analysis of interview and observation data confirms that workers have limited knowledge regarding how to respond to unwanted sexual advances from residents, and that organizational policies and practices centre on workers’ responsibilities to protect residents from sexual harassment. While workers report that sexual advances from residents were uncomfortable or offensive, they rarely reported these as they perceived these as unavoidable aspects of care work. To cope, workers normalized unwanted sexual attention by ascribing its occurrence to cognitive impairment, mental pathology, individual personality, or workers’ ‘unprofessional’ appearance and/or practices. These findings suggest that unwanted sexual attention as treated in public policy and long-term care practices actively silences workers’ experiences and additionally restricts their abilities to resist such attention. Implications of these findings for policy and practice will be discussed.