When you entrust the care of your loved one to a nursing home, you expect them to be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion. Unfortunately, nursing homes are rife with abuse and neglect, and even patients in highly-rated facilities are at the risk of harm.
Sexual assault is a shockingly common form of elder abuse and instances of sexual violence against seniors occur in nursing homes. Here’s what to know and how you can protect your loved one.
Elder Sexual Abuse Statistics
Adults over the age of 60 are at a high risk of abuse, especially if they are cognitively impaired or have limited mobility. A look at the statistics provides a sobering view of the prevalence of sexual assault against the elderly:
- 18% of women who are raped are over the age of 60 (Department of Justice).
- 70% of all elder sexual assault cases happen in nursing homes.
- Nearly 2 in 10 nursing home residents are sexually abused (WHO).
- 85% of nursing home sexual assault victims are female (Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape).
- 51% of nursing home sexual abuse was witnessed.
- Over half of elder sexual assault victims sustained a genital injury.
- Only 30% of sexual abuse victims in nursing homes reported their assault (Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault).
The Problem with Underreporting
As mentioned above, a significant portion of sexual abuse cases in long-term care facilities go unreported. This is particularly true for men who are sexually assaulted, both in and out of nursing homes. The shame of reporting along with the fear of retaliation often discourages people from telling anyone about what happened. This means that as appalling as those numbers are, they’re just a fraction of the actual cases of abuse.
Causes of Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes
Understanding the causes of elder sexual assault is the first step to helping prevent it. These issues often contribute to the pervasiveness of this type of abuse in nursing homes:
- Staffing shortages. Caregivers in understaffed facilities are often overworked and stressed, which increases the risk of neglect, abuse, and sexual abuse. Overburdened staff may not have the time or resources to provide adequate supervision, making residents more vulnerable to assault.
- Poor training and lack of background checks. Nursing homes that fail to properly screen staff can inadvertently employ people with a history of abusive behavior. Staff without training may not be able to recognize or prevent abuse from happening and what actions to take when abuse needs to be reported.
- Inadequate security. If a facility fails to take appropriate security measures, this can increase the risk of unauthorized individuals gaining access to residents.
- Poor reporting culture. Facilities that discourage patients and staff members from reporting incidents of sexual abuse or even taking them seriously perpetuates a cycle of silence, inaction, and continued abuse.
Recognizing the Signs of Elder Sexual Abuse
The Department of Justice outlines several signs of elder sexual abuse that caregivers and family members need to be aware of:
- New difficulty with walking or sitting
- Torn or bloody underwear
- Bleeding, bruising, or injury on the genitals, buttocks, mouth, or chest
- Itching or pain in the genitals
- Diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Significant changes in behavior
- Trouble eating or sleeping
What to Do If Your Family Member Was Sexually Abused in a Nursing Home
If your loved one was sexually assaulted in a nursing home or other long-term care facility, it’s important to take action right away to protect them and others who may also be at risk. Start by notifying the nursing home of the abuse. Hopefully, the facility will take swift disciplinary and legal action against the perpetrator and provide access to counseling and other recovery resources for your loved one.
However, this is the least likely outcome. More often, complaints are buried and nothing is done. In this case, you should contact a qualified nursing home abuse lawyer who can work with you, the facility, governing authorities, and the court system to ensure that the abuse stops and your loved one is protected.
How Mazow | McCullough, PC Can Help
At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we know that learning your loved one was sexually abused in a place where they should have been cared for is an unimaginable blow. We can help you navigate this difficult time and give you the tools you need to protect your family.
Contact us today to learn more about nursing home abuse or to schedule your free initial consultation by calling our Salem, MA office at (978) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084.