Know the Warning Signs: How to Spot Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes

sexual abuse in nursing homes

It’s hard to know exactly how many elderly people are the victims of abuse, but some estimates say that 10% of nursing home residents are the victim of some type of abuse or neglect.

There are several types of elderly abuse and neglect, including sexual abuse. Sexual abuse in a nursing home, by both nursing home staff or other residents, is a serious problem.

Keep reading to learn more about the risk factors and warning signs of sexual abuse in nursing homes as well as how you can prevent your loved ones from being the victim of abuse.

What is Elder Abuse & Neglect?

When families put their loved ones in a nursing home, they typically do so with the belief that they will be cared for by professionals looking out for their best interest. Unfortunately, not all nursing homes have staff who treat your loved ones with dignity, respect, and kindness.

In too many nursing homes, abuse and neglect are prevalent.

Elder abuse and neglect includes physical, emotional, or sexual harm committed against an elderly person. It can also include financial exploitation or neglect. Every year, 500,000 cases of elder abuse are reported to authorities but it’s likely that there are many more cases that don’t get reported.

When older adults age, they may become frail and unable to take care of themselves. If they have diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s or physical ailments, they are often unable to defend themselves against abuse. This allows people to take advantage of them.

Elderly people who are institutional settings, like nursing homes, are often targeted. They may not have family who visits often and is unaware of what is going on with their loved one.

Elder Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse of the elderly takes on several different forms. It could be any type of sexual contact with an elderly person, without their consent, including sexual acts such as rape or sexual assault, showing an elderly person pornographic material, forcing them to watch sex acts or forcing them to undress.

This is often perpetrated against victims who have a mental illness, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease, as they cannot express their disapproval of the behavior. These individuals might not remember that the abuse occurred or are unable to communicate to anyone that it occurred.

Women are more likely than men to be the victims of elder sexual abuse and only about 30% of victims report it to anyone. Elderly people in nursing homes are the most common victims; almost 83% of elderly victims of sexual abuse live in nursing homes.

What Are The Risk Factors?

There are certain characteristics that make elderly people more likely to be the victim of abuse and neglect, including:

  • The intensity of the illness (how lucid they are)
  • Social isolation
  • Family or friends who don’t visit the elderly in a nursing home
  • Isolation and depression in the caregiver

When combined with institutional factors, such as a nursing home that is lax about their oversight, staff stress and frustration, lack of training, and low staff-patient ratios, certain elderly are more likely to experience sexual abuse. If you are worried about your loved one, there are some warning signs of sexual abuse in nursing homes that you can watch out for.

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes

There are both behavioral and physical indicators of sexual abuse against the elderly. Here are some things that should raise alarm:

  • Bruising around the breasts or genitals
  • Vaginal or anal bleeding with no explanation
  • Pelvic injuries
  • Problems walking or sitting
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Torn, bloody, or stained underclothes
  • Irritation in the genital area
  • Panic attacks
  • Signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Agitation
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Inappropriate or aggressive sexual activities

If you suspect that your loved one has been the victim of sexual abuse, you should report it immediately.

Common Perpetrators

The most common perpetrators of elderly sexual abuse are men. Women make up a very small number of those who commit sexual abuse against the elderly. Nursing home staff and other residents are the most common perpetrators.

Many offenders have a criminal history, substance abuse history, a diagnosis of a psychiatric condition, and past sexual abuse offenses. Offenders who commit sexual assault against the elderly often score low on social competence and seek victims who are fragile and unable to defend themselves.

Reporting Elder Sexual Abuse

Many senior citizens do not report abuse they experience, even if they are able to. They might be ashamed, fear retaliation, or worry that they will be forced to move out of the nursing home.

Sexual assault among people of all ages is typically unreported, so it’s not surprising that elderly victims who are aware of the abuse do not report it.

If you suspect that your loved one has been victimized or they have reported it to you, you should immediately file a report with the authorities or with your state’s Adult Protective Services agency so that it can be investigated.

Do I Need An Attorney?

It is also a good idea to hire a lawyer who specializes in nursing home abuse and neglect to help you navigate the process. An experienced nursing home abuse attorney can help you navigate the investigation process and give you options for how to proceed to get justice for your loved one.

If the case goes to court, an attorney will also conduct an investigation of the abuse and provide evidence of the abuse. Your lawyer will handle the paperwork, dealing with the criminal justice system, and witnesses, and insurance companies.

Your Next Steps

Sexual abuse in nursing homes is, unfortunately, more prevalent than anyone would like. If you suspect your loved one has been a victim, start taking steps immediately to prevent repeat victimization.

Contact us today for a free consultation on your case as well as assistance with finding the best attorney to handle your specific case.


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