A resident who is dependent on a nursing home to meet their medical needs should not live in fear of sexual predators being in charge of their care. Unfortunately, that is the reality that many elderly nursing home residents face today. While sources like the Nursing Home Abuse Center find that as many as one in ten individuals over the age of 65 suffer from some form of abuse in the nursing home system, cases of sexual abuse go woefully unreported and sometimes even uninvestigated.
At Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP, we know that coming forward with claims of sexual abuse may be the hardest thing your loved one has ever done. Often feelings of shame, anxiety, or embarrassment keep victims silent. Or, if you suspect your loved one is being sexually abused, you might not know who to turn to.
The experienced attorneys at Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP have the compassion to help your family through this difficult time and the resources to get you and your loved one the justice and compensation you rightly deserve. Abusers posing as caregivers, and nursing homes claiming to be safe, must be held responsible for their actions.
What Does Sexual Abuse in a Nursing Home Look Like?
There are several different forms that sexual abuse can take. Sexual abuse perpetrated against the elderly is defined as any type of unwanted sexual contact from touching or fondling up to sexual intercourse. In addition, unwanted contact may be the result of a communicated refusal of consent, like using the word no, but it can also include situations where disapproval cannot be clearly communicated or refused. A physical limitation or cognitive condition or impairment, such as dementia, may mean that a patient has no clear way of giving or refusing consent.
Taking advantage of an individual suffering from a condition that prevents them from communicating their needs can also be considered a form of sexual abuse. It is also important to understand that sexual abuse in nursing homes can include more than just the act of rape. Other common forms of sexual abuse against the elderly may also include:
- Unwanted sexual touching
- Oral sex
- Forced nudity
- Forced watching of pornographic materials
- Forced masturbation or making a resident watch masturbation
- Taking sexually explicit or nude photos and videos
Sexual abuse may even include the act of taking photos or videos of residents in compromising positions such as bathing, dressing, or otherwise being cared for.
What Are the Signs of Sexual Abuse in the Elderly?
Sexual abuse of the elderly may seem unfathomable to most people. It is hard to wrap your head around the fact that these things could happen in what is supposed to be a caring and compassionate environment. It is not something that is talked about, so many family members don’t know what to look for when it comes to warning signs for this type of abuse.
The shame and stigma of being sexually abused may keep some residents from voicing their concerns; the inability to communicate because of a cognitive condition like dementia keeps others silent. You are your family members’ best advocate. Keep in mind some of these general warning signs that sexual abuse may be taking place:
- Unexplained pelvic injuries or fractures or the pelvis or hip
- Problems walking or sitting
- Unexplained bruises in the genital area or on the thighs
- Irritation, itching, or pain in or near genital areas
- Developing an STD
- Bloody undergarments or sheets
- Torn undergarments or sheets
- Depression, agitation, or anxiety
- Social or emotional withdrawal from family or friends
- Acting unusually aggressive or sexual, engaging in inappropriate behavior
- Symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Suicide attempts
Why Does Abuse Go Unreported?
The World Health Organization’s data found that there have been over 16,000 reports of sexual abuse in nursing homes since the year 2000. What they also find is that most of the cases of sexual abuse taking place in nursing homes today never get reported. Estimates are that at least 30 percent of individuals over the age of 65 have been the victims of sexual abuse and that women are six times more likely to be targets of abuse. The obvious question is, why do so many cases of abuse never come to light? The answer is complicated.
One of the main reasons that sexual abuse is woefully underreported is because perpetrators oftentimes target the most vulnerable nursing home residents. These are residents who tend to have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other cognitive conditions that make them unable to clearly communicate what is happening to them.
Even in the early stages of the disease, a patient who has been diagnosed with dementia may not get the same level of credibility as someone without the disease. The perpetrator may play off the accusations as failing memory or something that must have happened in their past. It can be hard for patients with even mild cognitive impairment to be seen as a trustworthy and reliable source of information. This discrimination also makes then easy to target for abuse.
Another reason sexual abuse may go unreported has to do with the power dynamic that is in play at nursing home facilities. Residents are dependent on staff and caregivers for everything from their food and water, to the medical treatment and medication. To accuse a caregiver of sexual abuse may mean retaliation, especially if the facility itself is slow or reluctant to investigate the situation. A caregiver may even resort to using threats to keep the victim silent.
There is another reason many cases of sexual abuse can go unreported, and that has to do with the emotional trauma that is inflicted on the victim of any sexual abuse, young or old. Sexual abuse still carries a certain stigma to it. It is a traumatic event that can cause deep and painful emotional scars, as well as feelings of shame, guilt, helplessness, and embarrassment. It is a difficult topic to discuss with anyone, let alone a close family member like your own son or daughter. Be sensitive and compassionate to your family members, and keep a close eye on the warning signs of abuse.
What Can Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP Do to Help?
It is a painful and confusing time for you and your family member, and they need love, understanding, and, most importantly, your help. AtHare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP, we treat you and your family with the compassion and respect that you deserve. We understand that this is a traumatic and painful time for you all. Our legal team has the experience to investigate claims of sexual abuse in nursing homes and hold all responsible parties accountable for their actions. Abusive caregivers and negligent nursing home facilities cannot continue to get away with these types of actions.
If your loved one has suffered from sexual abuse while in the care of a nursing home or long-term care facility, pick up the phone and call our office at (859) 550-2900 to schedule a consultation with a nursing home abuse attorney in Kentucky.