Sexual Abuse and perimenopausal and/or menopausal women: A Union issue

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2023 National Women's Conference
12 October 2022

One in 35 women are raped or sexually assaulted every year. You will know at least one woman who has been raped or sexually assaulted in the last 12 months. Whether the person shares this harrowing experience with you is another matter. Sexual violence is linked to shame and humiliation.

In support of motion 15 at National Women’s Conference 2022, Newcastle Branch Women’s Self Organised Group (SOG) have been investigating domestic abuse as a workplace issue. Our women members agreed to investigate and work with our own education and welfare sections to create an up-to-date training and advice package which would be available to branches and representatives. The package will demonstrate how to support those members experiencing domestic abuse (DA) and start sometimes difficult conversations with members. We plan to encourage our branch to seek a review of any existing domestic violence policies in relation to employers across our area. Women members in SOG told us they wanted to see opportunities for women survivors of DA and that their Union is a safe place to get this support.

Many of us who are involved also play a key role in our Menopause project. During discussions about violence against women we revealed the tangible link between DA and the menopause.

Is it a myth or a fact that sexual violence escalates against perimenopausal and/or menopausal women within their domestic situation?

FACT: One in two rapes against women are carried out by their partner or ex-partner.

MYTH: Many people believe it can’t be rape if the act is carried out by the person the victim is married to.

FACT: Rape is rape and it is ILLEGAL.

One of the biggest barriers for women to reach out for help is other people’s lack of understanding, hostile storytelling and placing blame onto the victim “A women with her job (employment position held by the women) and she can’t leave her husband. I would just tell him where to go. He won’t speak to me like that!”

We began to research sexual violence against perimenopausal and/or menopausal women within their domestic situation and found little research could be found. Rape Crisis told us, in the year ending March 2022 70,330 people reported rape. Yet only 2,223 rape charges were brought during the same time, ending March 2022. What we have revealed is that 40% of women said they didn’t report the incident as they were embarrassed. 38% said they didn’t think the police could help. 34% said they thought it would be HUMILIATING to report the crime. We need to stop this blame culture and self-shaming.

An American study by Rohitha Naraharisetty (associate editor at The Swaddle, Sept 2022) told us that the link between violence and menopause is biological as well as cultural. According to a 2019 longitudinal study, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault were associated with a greater risk of “potentially disruptive menopause symptoms” — pointing to the “need for greater recognition of these exposures by clinicians caring for midlife and older women.” Leaving many women with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Fact: The impact of menopause on decreased quality of life is well-documented. We know symptoms of menopause include hot flushes, changes in sleep cycles, sex drive, mood changes, and more. However, the long- term impact of violence against perimenopausal and/or menopausal women is largely unknown creating further inequalities in women’s healthcare.

Very little is known about the prevalence of traumatic exposures to sexual violence amongst midlife and older women. This needs to change. We need to talk to our women members and find out more. How can we help a situation when we don’t know enough about it? This cannot continue and we need to lift the lid on sexual violence against ALL women including those perimenopausal and/or menopausal women. We all work alongside victims of domestic abuse and those women with symptoms of perimenopause and/or menopause. We need to support our women members, engage in sensitive conversations, gather evidence, to show this is happening now across the UK and Northern Ireland.

We therefore call on National Women’s Committee to work with regions and regional women’s networks/committees as appropriate to:

• Investigate and research this issue through various methods including surveying women members and share findings.

• Urge branches to collate any evidence they have which supports links with Domestic abuse and perimenopausal and/or Menopausal women and share this evidence.

• Encourage branches to check that they have adopted a DA policy which will enable them to support members, shop stewards and branch officers when faced with disciplinary issues fundamentally related to DA.

• Campaign to raise awareness of Domestic Abuse against peri menopausal and menopausal women.