Sexual abuse in nursing homes is a difficult thing to comprehend. The initial reaction for most is shock and disbelief. Yet, in nursing homes all across the United States, sexual assault and molestation occur on a regular basis. Reputable agencies estimate that only 30% of cases are actually reported to anyone. In the best case scenario, hundreds of incidents of sexual abuse occur every year. In the worst case scenario, thousands of patients are being assaulted. These statistics teach us that we must stop thinking about sexual abuse in terms of an isolated event or something out of the ordinary. In accepting the truth, perhaps we will be able to effectuate change by proactively looking for signs of abuse.
Why the Elderly?
The elderly represent one of society’s most vulnerable groups. Elderly patients diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s cannot properly recall events and lack the ability to effectively communicate their circumstances. Moreover, they may be completely dependent on those working in the nursing home for their daily needs such as bathing, using the restroom and changing their clothing. Those working with the elderly are in a position of power and authority.
Who is in the Best Position to Detect Sexual Abuse?
Employees of nursing homes, including directors, doctors, nurses, therapists, caretakers, nutritionists, etc., are in the best position to detect sexual abuse. In other words, anyone coming into regular contact with the elder. Family members and other visitors of the patient are also in a position to detect signs of abuse.
What are some warning signs of Sexual Abuse?
The following may be indications of sexual abuse:
- Sudden, unexplained changes in your loved one’s behavior or personalities such as anger and fear.
- Injuries such as bruises, scars or welts. Take special note if the injuries are symmetrical (occur in roughly the same place on opposite sides of the body) or occur around the genitals.
- Infections that are typically transmitted sexually (venereal diseases or sexually transmitted diseases).
- Bleeding from the vagina or anus.
- Bloody or stained underwear.
- Blood on the bed.
- Torn clothing.
- Sudden, unexplained incontinence (if not previously incontinent), or reoccurring urinary infections in women who are not incontinent not catheterized.
Please note that these signs may also be present in someone who is not being sexually abused. For example, it is common for an elderly person to get angry, violent, disruptive and or defiant. These may be signs of general neglect and abuse and not sexual abuse. Any sudden changes in behavior should be thoroughly investigated and monitored.
In 2014, I represented an elderly woman who had been sexually assaulted in a nursing home. The incident or incidents would likely have gone unnoticed had a female employee not caught the perpetrator in the act. The perpetrator was a janitor who had been asked to transport the patients from time to time. In doing so, the janitor had increased physical access to the patients. This janitor regularly entered into patients’ rooms.
When the female employee walked into the room on this particular evening, the victim’s breasts were being fondled and her undergarments lowered. The female employee informed the owners of the facility, who eventually called the police. Formal charges were brought against the janitor but then were later dropped. The family members of the victim felt they had no choice but to hire a lawyer to bring an action against the care home for allowing such abuse to go on as it did.
After the suit was brought against the residential care facility, the female employee was immediately fired. It goes without saying, that the case resulted in a significant recovery for the victim.