If you were physically unable to get out of bed, mentally unable to decode what is happening to you, unable to communicate to your family, and completely dependent on paid caregivers – would you notice if you were sexually assaulted? Many nursing homes trying to defend themselves from sexual abuse lawsuits claim that the victim could not have suffered in this scenario. Unfortunately, this is not a remote or unlikely scenario as nursing home sexual assault happens frequently.
NURSING HOME SEXUAL ASSAULT IS PREVALENT
A CNN investigation in February 2017, found more than 1000 nursing homes have been cited – just for mishandling suspected cases of sex abuse. Over 16,000 complaints of sexual abuse have been reported in cases where a state ombudsmen (advocate) was involved. No one has statistics about the actual rate of sexual assault and rape in our nation’s nursing homes. But it is estimated that 0.6% of older persons in the US are exposed to sexual abuse. Since there are 1.4 million nursing home residents, you can do the math to determine that there are a lot of assaults that go unreported.
The factors that make children particularly vulnerable to abuse are many of the same factors affecting nursing home residents. Many victims have difficulty understanding what has happened to them, victims may have difficulty in communicating. And these victims may be met with skepticism because it is hard to imagine that someone would want to rape an elderly victim.
Sexual abuse defined as “nonconsenting sexual contact of any kind” is said to be the most hidden form of elder abuse. Remember that an adult must be mentally competent to give consent so even sexual activity between residents may be sexual assault if one party is incapacitated.
SIGNS OF NURSING HOME SEXUAL ASSAULT
If the victim can communicate and suggests that something happened, believe them. If the victim cannot communicate, here are some warning signs to look for:
- Sudden, unexplained changes in behavior or personality.
- A strong desire to leave a facility that was previously acceptable
- Negative reactions to specific caregivers
- Talking about sexual subjects or using sexual language in a person who has not previously talked like this
- Injuries such as bruises, scars or welts.
- Infections that are typically transmitted sexually (venereal diseases or sexually transmitted diseases).
- Bleeding from the vagina or anus
- Stained or torn clothing.
- Sudden, unexplained incontinence
- Urinary infections in women who are not incontinent and not catheterized.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT NURSING HOME SEXUAL ASSAULT
If there is a suspicion of nursing home sexual assault, the first call should be to law enforcement. If there is a reason to believe that the assault was recent, take steps to preserve the resident’s clothes and do not bath the resident. Many nursing homes are quick to change a victim or to bathe a victim – all of which destroys evidence of the assault. Nursing homes have been known to try to cover up abuse and assault so be wary.
If there is evidence that a nursing home or its employees were negligent, meaning they did not act the way a reasonable nursing home or employee would have, then the nursing home may be held accountable for any resulting damages. This could include medical bills, pain and suffering, disability, and the mental anguish of the victim. If the nursing home was reckless or indifferent to the dangers presented to one of their residents, then punitive damages may be available. These damages are intended to punish wrongdoers.
There are a lot of lawyers who handle nursing home cases, but sexual assault cases are different. These cases require experts who can explain why an elder would have mental anguish even though they also have dementia. It is important that the initial skeptical response that no one would want to rape granny is overcome.
If you or a loved one have been affected by sexual assault in a nursing home, contact Koller Trial Law for a free consultation.