Tragically, nursing home sexual abuse occurs more often than most people imagine. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that five million nursing home residents are abused, neglected, or exploited each year. Many of these abuses are sexual and often go unreported because the elderly victims may be cognitively vulnerable or are without regular family support when in a nursing home.
The population in a nursing home is often very vulnerable and has cognitive or memory problems and mobility issues, so their reports of abuse to the administration may not be investigated or taken seriously. An anonymous survey by the National Center on Elder Abuse found that 68% of the adult women reported experiencing 1 or more types of abuse in the previous year, and of those abused 30% experienced sexual abuse in the preceding year.
If you suspect your loved one has been the victim of abuse, contact one of our compassionate attorneys.
Why are the Elderly a Target for Sexual Abuse?
Unfortunately, sexual predators see the elderly as easy targets. Sexual predators know that elderly victims are unable to physically fight back and less likely to report the incident or have anyone believe them if they do. These abusers will find victims in assisted care facilities with mental illness, dementia, or a history of problematic outbursts or issues with other staff members.
Who Commits Nursing Home Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse in a nursing home is often perpetrated by staff members, other residents, or strangers such as contractors or visitors to the facility. The abuser can be anyone who has contact with the resident. Residents may know their abuser, such as a family member, friend, or staff person, or they could be strangers.
Although sexual abuse by staff members is most commonly reported in the news, resident-to-resident sexual aggression (RRSA) occurs and is often the result of mental health issues or dementia (dementia-driver RRSA) that impact residents’ sexual behaviors or aggression toward each other.
The staff often have unsupervised, intimate contact with the residents when bathing, dressing, or helping them with hygiene or use of the bathroom. These close contacts and unsupervised tasks can leave the opportunity for sexual abuse, so nursing homes have a legal requirement to ensure the staff they hire are safe.
Many nursing homes perform background checks on new employees, but this alone does not guarantee that the employee is trustworthy. Training programs for supervisors in abuse prevention and having adequate staffing levels can aid in preventing sexual abuse because this provides less opportunity for unsupervised time with residents and more oversight of the treatment of those under their care.
When a nursing home fails to process background checks, maintain adequate staffing levels, and follow up on complaints from residents and their families, they can be held liable if abuse occurs. They may also be held liable if a nursing home does not have proper training protocols, policies, and staffing levels and sexual abuse occurs.
Many nursing home residents visit guests, and often these visitors can move about the facility freely, especially if staffing levels are low. Nursing home facilities also have vendors that access the building and may be able to access a resident’s room without being noticed.
If a nursing home staff is overworked and short-staffed, it may be effortless for someone to slip into a room unnoticed. These lapses in protocol and safety measures encourage assailants to prey on the weak and vulnerable. Nursing homes are aware of this and need to constantly assess their security measures and staff training in abuse prevention.
Abuse by Another Resident
Abuse by other residents happens in nursing homes when residents are left unchecked. Some residents may have dementia or another mental health issue that impacts their choices and behavior and can result in resident-to-resident sexual aggression (RRSA). Dementia-driven RRSA is one of the most common forms of sexual abuse in nursing homes.
The assailant may have mental issues or suffer from dementia, so the nursing home needs to be aware and monitor patients with similar problems. The nursing home needs to monitor patients’ needs, weaknesses, and the risk of being assaulted. If an assault occurs, the nursing home can be liable for negligence because the nursing home was understaffed, failed to train or supervise staff properly, and/or failed to provide proper safety and supervision of its residents.
Common Signs of Sexual abuse
If you have a loved one who is a patient in a nursing home, it is important to pay attention to the protocols and cues of the nursing home staff and residents and how they interact. This is especially important if your loved one cannot talk or cannot communicate clearly. Some signs of sexual abuse include:
- Diagnosed with STD
- Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
- Social withdrawal from activities or group
- New panic, anxiety, or fear of particular residents or staff
- Resentment or anger
- Sleeping issues
- Bruising, rashes, or scratches appear on arms, inner thigh, breasts, or other areas
- Genital scarring
- New problems with walking or standing with no medical explanation
- Genital bleeding, irritation, or infection of the vagina or rectum
If your loved one shows some of the above signs, it could also be a sign of physical abuse or mental decline. Start by discussing the issues with your loved one and see if they can provide you with any answers. If not, speak with nursing home staff such as an administrator or contact an attorney who can advise you on what steps you can take to investigate the treatment of your loved one.
Suing an Ohio Nursing Home for Sexual Abuse
When there is a sexual assault that takes place in a nursing home, the facility may be liable because it is its responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for its residents. Nursing homes know that it is foreseeable that a resident may be sexually abused, so a facility is responsible for taking appropriate measures to prevent this. Often, abuse occurs because they put profits over patient or resident safety.
When facilities put profits ahead of their residents by cutting employee pay, this can cause a higher turnover rate resulting in under-trained and inexperienced staff. With inadequate staffing, checking on residents as constantly as needed is not done so it provides an environment where abuse and neglect can quickly occur.
Background checks can be costly and time-consuming, but nursing homes need to conduct them on each incoming staff member because the clinical staff is in close, personal contact with the residents when they assist them with bathing, using the restroom, and dressing. Facilities that do not contact references and complete background checks put their residents at risk.
When nursing homes cut corners and do not put patient safety first, it is not a question of whether abuse will occur, but when.
Contact an Attorney For Help if Your Loved One is Being Sexually Abused in a Nursing Home
If you have been the victim of a nursing home sexual assault in Toledo, you will want an attorney who has handled these cases before. You need a lawyer who knows how to investigate these types of incidents for systemic mistakes made by the nursing home.
Contact an attorney at Charles Boyk for a free, private consultation of your case. We understand that it can be an emotional process and coming forward can seem intimidating. Anything we discuss is confidential, and our lawyers and staff will walk you through every step of the process and are here to answer your questions and discuss your concerns. We can help you and your loved one receive justice from those who committed the abuse and/or allowed the abuse to take place.