When we think about nursing home abuse, the first things that come to mind are incidents of neglect that lead to complications such as malnourishment, dehydration and bed sores. We don’t want to imagine the possibility that our loved ones could be the victims of assault or sexual abuse. The amount of incidents that are being reported that related to alleged sexual abuse in nursing homes is alarming, however, and despite our best efforts to deny it, sexual abuse is a growing problem in nursing homes.
High Rate of Incidents, Low Rate of Arrest
Between the years of 2007 and 2010, in Chicago, IL, there were eighty-six reported incidents that involved some form of sexual abuse. Of those eighty-six reports, only a single incident led to an arrest. More surprising was the fact that there were nine incidents that happened in nursing homes in Chicago that were never reported to the police and another incident which was reported months after the fact. Nursing homes are required by law to report cases of criminal sexual assault immediately.
Why the Elderly are a Target for Sexual Abuse
Perpetrators often target the elderly because they are unable to fight back due to frailty and are unlikely to be taken seriously when they make an accusation. Many cases of sexual abuse that involve nursing home staff involve patients that may already be suffering from dementia or a mental illness. The abuser will quickly deny any accusations and claim that the patient is suffering from hallucinations or is confused. It is also much easier to restrain and intimidate the elderly, which means unfortunately that they make for easier prey in the eyes of sexual predators.
Signs of Assault
If a patient has unexplained bruises that the responsible caregiver tries to attribute to the natural aging process, it is possible that the person is being restrained and or assaulted. In the event of genital bruising or bleeding, the caregiver might provide the excuse that the injuries happened while inserting a catheter. Bruises to the abdomen are another sign that the victim was restrained unnecessarily and that foul play was involved.
Relation of Under-staffing to Sexual Abuse
Of the eighty-six cases of sexual assault reported in nursing homes in Chicago between 2007 and 2010, only a handful involved a perpetrator who was a visitor or staff member. The majority of sexual assault in nursing homes occurs when a resident abuses another resident. The number of these incidents is significantly greater in facilities that are understaffed due to the inability of the small staff to successfully monitor all of the patients under its care. Visitors and residents are able to wander the facility more freely without detection and more sexual crimes are committed as a result.
Protecting Elderly Nursing Home Patients From Sexual Abuse
Ensuring that the home your loved one is admitted to is properly staffed is the first step toward protecting him or her against sexual abuse. Well-staffed facilities are more likely to notice suspicious behavior and intervene in the event that a resident, staff member or visitor is in a place that he or she is not supposed to be. Paying attention to the physical signs is also important. Don’t always take a staff member’s word for it if you are told that the bruises on your loved one’s arms or abdomen are caused by aging and if there are any injuries whatsoever to the genitals, demand an investigation.
Sexual abuse in nursing homes is a difficult subject to talk about, but denying that it happens or remaining silent will never make the problem go away. Before you decide on a nursing home, make sure that it is properly staffed and that the staff is well trained in order to prevent sexual abuse and other forms of nursing home abuse such as neglect. If you have any reason at all to suspect that your loved one is being abused sexually while under the care of a nursing home, contact an experienced injury lawyer with experience prosecuting sexual abuse cases to give the case proper consideration and to conduct a formal investigation.