Sexual abuse in nursing homes and care facilities is on the rise. This form of elder abuse is arguably the worst possible kind, and although it’s mostly a hidden problem, it’s also a nationwide epidemic. If you believe that you or a loved one is a victim of nursing home sexual abuse, you are not alone, and there are ways to get help.
Sexual Abuse by the Numbers
The Administration for Community Living monitored sexual abuse in nursing homes in all 50 states, and over a 20 year period, the group received reports of over 20,000 cases of sexual abuse in nursing homes. That figure doesn’t take into account abuse committed by other residents, and it also doesn’t take into account the countless cases that go unreported every year.
A study by the minority staff of the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee, found that U.S. nursing homes were cited for 9,000 cases of abuse between January 1999 to January 2001. Shockingly, as 5,283 nursing homes were involved, that’s nearly one third of all nursing homes in the United States.
Most of problems included untreated bed sores, malnutrition, dehydration, preventable accidents, inadequate medical care, and lack of sanitation and hygiene, but 1,601 of the violations caused physical or sexual harm to the residents. In some cases, nursing home staff were accused of physical or sexual abuse, and in others, staff were cited for failing to protect residents from other residents. The report also stated, that nursing home abuse has increased every year since 1996.
Why It’s a Hidden Secret
With such high rates of abuse, it can be hard to figure out why nursing home abuse and sexual abuse in particular seem to be such a hidden secret. Sometimes, facility owners don’t want to reveal or deal with abuse because they’re worried about their reputations and profits. Families often don’t want to face the abuse or just may not believe that it’s actually happening.
Tragically, many sexual abuse victims have conditions such as Alzheimer’s that hinder their ability to communicate and alter their perceptions of reality. As a result, when these patients report sexual abuse, it’s often dismissed by the nursing home staff, the managers, and even the victim’s own family. Additionally, the low wages offered to most nursing assistants makes it nearly impossible for facilities to find and retain quality and qualified workers, and workers often lack the required training to spot sexual abuse, which also keeps offenses from even being reported.
In 2017, CNN reported that over 1,000 nursing homes had been cited for mishandling suspected cases of sexual abuse. But these reports also showed that the police tend to be reluctant to believe victims’ allegations of abuse, due to their failing memories or confusing allegations. Beyond that, regulators have failed to flag patterns of repeated allegations against single caregivers. These systemic failures make it difficult for victims to get justice, while also making it easier for sexual predators to get away with their crimes.
Know the Signs of Sexual Abuse
Again, due to age, dementia, fear of their abuser, or other conditions, victims of sexual abuse are not always able to tell their families or loved ones they’re being abused. For that reason, it’s important to understand the physical and emotional signs of abuse:
- Unexplained infections or sexual transmitted diseases
- Ripped or bloody underclothes
- Unexplained bruising, particularly in intimate areas
- Visible and excessive fear and apprehension around certain persons
- The elder person blaming themselves for minor problems
- Visible depression or anger, especially when these symptoms have not been present in the past
- Rocking, sucking, or mumbling (referred to as false dementia)
It’s also critical to remember that both women and men are subject to rape and other forms of sexual abuse.
If you are a victim of nursing home sexual abuse or if you believe that your loved one is being abused, it’s important to report it. Always be careful about approaching the nursing home, unless you truly believe that the management will help you and not rush to cover the abuse. If you believe that the nursing home may be at fault, speak with an attorney and the police first. Notifying the nursing home may give them time to erase records and destroy evidence.
If the district attorney determines that there is substantial evidence to substantiate criminal behavior, the state will file charges against the nursing home. However, even if no criminal charges are brought forward, you may still be able to bring a civil suit against the nursing home or other liable entities.
Legal Help for Nursing Home Sexual Abuse
Unfortunately, lawsuits against nursing homes are difficult and complex. Many nursing homes are owned by corporations that avoid lawsuits by flooding the opposing legal team with paperwork. If you decide to bring a suit against a nursing home, you need to hire an attorney who is ready and able to handle the process. Ideally, you want a personal injury lawyer with experience in nursing home and sexual abuse cases. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us today at Mazow | McCullough, PC.