Although rare compared to other forms of elder abuse, sexual assault in nursing homes is nonetheless a grievance for victims and their families.
If you’ve ever been in the position to choose a nursing home for your parents or older relatives, you probably selected a facility that you believed would foster their healthy, safety, and social needs. Unfortunately, some homes that appear to be perfect on the surface aren’t necessarily ideal. While all nursing home residents deserve to enjoy their golden years, some are subjected to abuse at the facilities that are supposed to look after them.
Defining Sexual Abuse of a Nursing Home Resident
Sexual abuse in a nursing home engages residents in unwanted sexual acts or attention. When many people hear the word abuse, they think of obvious signs of violence or aggression. However, most acts of sexual abuse are done secretly and quietly. Perpetrators are careful not to get caught so that they can continue the cycle of abuse.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone in a nursing home can fall prey to sexual abusers. Compared with men, women in general are more than nine times more likely to be violated. Elderly women are often perceived as weaker. Since women are typically smaller than men, they can be physically easier to overpower.
Having a disability, be it physical or mental, can also make a resident especially vulnerable to predators. Those who are bound to wheelchairs or who otherwise have limited mobility are not easily able to flee an abusive situation.
Predators also target elderly people who they believe won’t be able to report the abuse. For instance, if your elderly family member is one of the 50 million people who suffers from dementia, your loved one may not be able to articulate what happened, or worse, their claims could be dismissed by negligent staff.
Who are the Perpetrators?
It takes dozens of people to keep a nursing home running. On any given day, various employees and staff members come in and out of facilities. Nurses, therapists, janitorial staff, and dietitians are among the many staff members who can misuse their access to residents. In some circumstances, ill-intentioned volunteers who are not probably vetted enter under a false guise.
Even other residents can be perpetrators. Their misconduct may be fueled by a mental health issue. Or they may have had a history of abusing others prior to living in the nursing home. Regardless of the perpetrator’s role, the person is often someone who has become close to the victim before violating their trust.
Signs Your Family Member is a Victim
Signs of sexual abuse, even when physical, can be difficult to see if you are not looking for them. Victims may develop bruising and unexplained rashes in various areas. These can include near their genitals, on their inner thighs, and on their breasts. Hence, areas that are typically concealed by clothing during a family visit.
Similarly, those who have been sexually abused and have developed a pelvic injury may have trouble walking or sitting, but since one in five elderly people have mobility issues, they can be misread as a typical sign of aging.
Changes in behavior can also be a sign of sexual abuse. For example, if your loved one who was previously a social butterfly has become withdrawn, it could mean he or she has been intimidated into silence or is dealing with depression, which sexual assault survivors are three times more likely to suffer from. Since victims of abuse often feel perpetually uneasy as another attack could happen at any time, they may become easily startled or angered.
The Rights of Nursing Home Residents
Nursing home operators have a duty of care to their residents. In other words, they must take reasonable actions to prevent their residents from being harmed in any way. This includes being properly staffed.
Abuse can happen at any time. That is one of the many reasons why facilities are required to have staff available 24 hours, seven days a week. Residents should always have someone who they can turn to for help.
Nursing homes must also have a minimum number of nurses on duty at all times. Their presence not only ensures that sick residents can get care; nurses are trained to recognize signs of abuse. Therefore, abuse is less likely to take place when there are more eyes watching.
No matter their role, anyone who will come into contact with nursing home residents has to undergo a background check before being hired. Whether a facility willingly or unknowingly hires a predator with a record, it will almost always be considered negligent and a failure to uphold duty of care.
Contact an Attorney
Many family members who have selected a nursing home feel guilty when their loved ones are sexually abused by staff. In reality, it is not their fault; the negligent facility and abusers themselves are responsible and should be held accountable.
If you or an elderly member of your family has been abused while under the care of a nursing home, please speak to our experienced attorneys. At Sand Law, we understand that this is a delicate situation. We will manage your case delicately while still vigorously pursuing maximum compensation from the at-fault parties. Our initial consultations are no-pressure and always free. Contact us online or call today at 651-291-7263.