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Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes

The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that nursing home abuse occurs in about 30 percent of all United States nursing homes. That’s a shocking and troubling statistic for families who either have loved ones in nursing homes or plan to move their loved ones to nursing homes in the future. But even more shocking is the fact that many nursing home residents have been the victims of sexual abuse.

Victims of sexual abuse in nursing homes may be unwilling or unable to explain what happened to them. Families of these victimized residents may notice their loved ones withdrawing, becoming severely depressed, and seeming afraid or anxious. Those symptoms could be signs of specific illnesses, but they could also indicate a pattern of sexual abuse.

If you suspect or know your loved one has suffered sexual abuse in a nursing home, contact the personal injury attorneys at Wapner Newman. We will work diligently to help you and your loved one get the justice you deserve. We charge nothing up front for your consultation, or for our legal services, so contact us today at (800) 529-6600.

Common Victim Profiles

Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities may have physical or cognitive impairments that prevent them from fighting off unwanted sexual contact. Those people, unfortunately, may be targets of sexually hostile residents and abusive staff.

Three Pennsylvania agencies partnered to produce an assistance manual for sexual violence centers, in an effort to educate workers about the issue of elder sexual assault. The manual lists three types of people who are most likely to be victims of sexual assault in nursing homes:

  • Older residents with physical disabilities
  • Residents with cognitive impairments, such as dementia
  • Younger residents with physical disabilities (such as people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or have a neuromuscular disorder)

Victimized residents may suffer from both physical and psychological trauma. And their family members, once they discover the abuse, may also experience psychological conditions such as guilt, grief, depression, and anxiety.

Why Abuse Occurs

One possible side effect of dementia is hypersexual behavior, and when nursing homes are understaffed, residents with strong hypersexual urges may be able to easily victimize other residents. This issue – which researchers call RRSA (resident-to-resident sexual aggression) — has received little attention, but it is a serious threat in nursing homes.

A report on RRSA in 2010 noted that other resident-perpetrators of sexual violence had a history of sex offenses – at one point, 700 registered sex offenders were living in long-term care facilities. The report also noted that incidents of sexual assault between residents are likely underreported, especially because the majority of victims have some degree of cognitive impairment.

The Problems Associated with Understaffing

Understaffing not only makes it easier for residents to victimize other residents, it also allows abusive workers to carry out crimes, because they may be working alone, without supervision. Adequate staffing is essential for keeping residents safe.

McKnight’s Long-Term Care News discusses the problem of “rationing” staff in nursing homes – a practice it defines as “a dangerous level of understaffing that occurs when tenuous staff-to-resident ratios force nurses and aides to choose which aspects of care and supervision will be left to chance.”

Some symptoms of rationing include:

  • Dirty facilities and foul odors
  • Inadequate staff in memory-care units
  • When floor nurses are so overworked, they cannot supervise their own staff
  • When high-risk residents aren’t checked on every two hours
  • When residents are left in one position (in bed, sitting, or in dining halls) for much longer than is safe or comfortable
  • When nursing homes have been cited repeatedly for safety violations

Understaffing is almost always a precursor to abuse.

Detecting Sexual Abuse

Many elderly patients are not able to properly express what is happening to them, so it’s important for families and nursing home staff to be on the lookout for these signs of sexual abuse:

  • Bleeding around the genitals or anus
  • Bruises around the abdomen, thighs, hips, buttocks, or breasts
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Torn or soiled garments
  • Agitation or depression
  • Visible fear around nursing home staff
  • Withdrawal from the nursing home community
  • Unusual behavior such as rocking or nail biting

The best way to detect this type of abuse is through regular unannounced visits to your loved one’s care facility.

If you believe your loved one is suffering from sexual abuse in a nursing home in the areas of Philadelphia, Allentown, West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, or anywhere in the state of New Jersey, contact Wapner Newman online, or at (800) 529-6600, to request your free, no-obligation case consultation.