Sexual abuse of the elderly includes many different kinds of unwanted sexual contact. Sexual abuse is non-consensual and may be perpetrated against those who are unable to give consent due to their mental state. It includes sexual touching, rape, nude photographs of the victim, and sexual assault or battery.
Statistics on sexual abuse of the elderly are hard to find. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) found that only around 30% of elderly victims of sexual abuse report it to authorities. They also found that, in most cases, the perpetrator was the victim's direct caretaker and that the majority of sexual abuse cases have at least one witness.
Reasons Behind Sexual Abuse of the Elderly
It is difficult to imagine how sexual abuse could be such a common phenomenon in one of our society's most vulnerable populations, the elderly. However, there are many reasons why sexual abuse of older individuals may go undetected and therefore allow the abuse to continue or give opportunities to abusers. Often, older residents of nursing homes are physically and mentally weaker than the average person. Dementia, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's, and speech disabilities can limit the victim's ability to defend themselves and speak out against their abuser.
In addition, the nursing home staff has complete control over the resident's sleep, food, water, and social activity. It is therefore very easy for a staff person to threaten to withhold basic care if their victim decides to speak out against them. Sometimes, other residents may even be perpetrating sexual abuse. If your loved one lives in a facility that houses many people with different pasts, it is extremely important that the long term care facility has regulations to keep all their patients safe. It is management's responsibility to protect their residents from sexual abuse by other residents.
Symptoms of Sexual Abuse
Unfortunately, all too often, sexual abuse goes unreported. A lack of obvious outer symptoms can keep the situation from being discovered by nursing home staff or the family of the victim, and the abuse can continue for weeks, months, or even years. Often, sexual abuse is never discovered. In patients with dementia or other cognitive impairments, sexual assault can cause severe traumatic reactions and even death. There are some particular physical symptoms of sexual abuse that may signal a situation that requires immediate and swift attention. If you see any of the following symptoms, remove your loved one from the nursing home facility as soon as possible and have them evaluated by a doctor.
- Unexplained bloodstains on the victim's clothes or bed
- Blood, tears, or rips on the resident's undergarments,
- Bleeding or bruising, especially around the genital area,
- New or unexplained pain that occurs when the victim sits down
- Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases or infections of the genitals
- Fear, anxiety, or signs discomfort around one particular caregiver
Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to prove sexual abuse without physical evidence or eyewitnesses, especially if the victim is cognitively impaired and has difficulty expressing themselves. If you find any of the previous evidence, you may want to schedule a consultation with a doctor rapidly in order to document any other physical symptoms that may be present.
Warning Signs and Prevention
Sexual abuse is not always easy to detect, because there may not be physical symptoms. Psychological and behavioral patterns may also signal the possible threat of sexual abuse. If you notice one or more of the following symptoms, it might be time to take steps to protect your loved one.
- Social isolation, either self-imposed or due to a situation created by the facility's staff
- Depression, anxiety, or a loss of enjoyment in activities that were formerly enjoyed by the resident
- Neglect from the caregiver, facility, or family members
- Physical or mental disability or impairment that makes it hard for the resident to communicate
- Caregivers that get suddenly transferred to a different part of the nursing home without explanation
- Lack of supervision, scheduled room checks, and safety protocols
- One caregiver has direct and complete control over a specific resident
Although uncommon, sometimes nursing homes will ignore claims of sexual abuse or cover up for their employees. They may move an employee who was accused of abuse to a different area of the facility or conducts an investigation without informing the family. It can be very difficult for victims, especially elderly victims, of abuse to stand up for themselves, especially when they are afraid of retribution.
Steps to Take When You Suspect Sexual Abuse in a Nursing Home
As the family member of a nursing home resident, there are certain things you can do to prevent the pattern of sexual abuse. First, it is important to communicate with your loved one and make sure that they know that you can protect them from the consequences of speaking out. Although in some cases, it may be reasonable to inform the nursing home management of the situation, in some circumstances it is best to begin an outside investigation first. If an abuser is aware that there is an investigation underway concerning their action, they may take it upon themselves to punish the victim even further.
After you are sure that your loved one is safe and cared for, you can begin to take further steps to press criminal or civil charges. Each of these courses of actions will have different steps and results. A criminal charge against the abuser and the nursing home can result in jail time and financial penalties, but will not compensate victims of the abuse or their families in the case of wrongful death. If may choose to report suspected abuse to your local ombudsman or your local chapter of the Administration on Aging. In order to file a civil lawsuit against the nursing home, you will need an experienced personal injury attorney who can gather evidence, collect witness testimony, and argue for deserved compensation for traumatic injuries. Call trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian today at 800.529.6162 or contact them online for a free consultation on your case.