Sexual abuse in nursing homes

Approximately 10 percent of the elderly population in America has experienced abuse in some form. When we think about preventing elder abuse, most consider ways to combat physical abuse, emotional abuse and financial exploitation. Rarely discussed is sexual abuse, which is nonetheless an extensive problem plaguing nursing home facilities nationwide.

The weakest are most vulnerable

A number of studies have looked into the issue. Unfortunately, exact numbers are difficult to pinpoint. However, according to a study published in The Gerontologist, sexual abuse in nursing homes is a widespread and underreported problem. The study in question reviewed 15 independent and peer-reviewed studies to examine victim/perpetrator relationships.

It found that residents most likely to suffer sexual abuse are also the most vulnerable. They often have physical or cognitive impairments that prevent them from speaking out. And the damage done is significant. On average, a nursing home resident who experiences sexual abuse is likely to die within a year of the abuse occurring.

According to the study, most instances of sexual abuse in long-term care facilities were either done by one perpetrator with multiple victims, or multiple instances of abuse for one victim. Staff directly responsible for care were more likely to be perpetrators of sexual abuse than ancillary staff, such as cooks and cleaners. Nursing home residents were also at risk from other residents, and such cases were more likely to be reported, although they are not necessarily more common.

These horrifying acts deserve attention and prevention efforts

Acts of sexual abuse against vulnerable individuals are disturbing. Whether it involves children, the mental or physically impaired, or nursing home residents, all possible methods to protect victims must be taken.

In some cases, however, nursing home facilities are doing little to prevent sexual abuse.

What to watch for

If you are concerned about the health and well-being of a loved one in a long-term care facility, there are some ways to help:

  • Look for warning signs, such as being more withdrawn than usual, frequent bruising and other symptoms of abuse
  • Stop by frequently
  • Be wary if they delay your visit, cut your visit short or refuse to leave the room for the duration of your visit
  • Report concerns to management

You are also encouraged to report suspected sexual abuse to authorities, and contact a personal injury attorney familiar with sexual abuse cases to discuss next steps.

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