Supporting Families when the Unthinkable Happens
It’s hard to say exactly how many elders suffer sexual abuse while at a nursing home due to the stigma around the topic and the potential danger that comes with reporting it. However, various surveys of patients suggest at least 10% of nursing home residents are sexually abused. The actual percentage is likely much higher, but we may never know the full extent of this issue.
No matter your age or gender, sexual abuse is hugely traumatizing. For physically frail nursing home patients, it can also cause injury or worsen existing medical conditions. If your loved one has been harmed in this way, they deserve a lawyer who will do everything they can to fight for justice on their behalf. That’s where Peterson & Associates, P.C. can help. With over 25 years serving the Kansas City community, we’ve built a strong team of skilled legal advocates. Our kind counsel and aggressive representation can help you and your loved one find justice and closure after such a traumatic event.
How to Spot Signs of Sexual Abuse
Due to generational and situational factors, seniors may be less likely to report sexual abuse. Therefore, friends and family members should keep an eye out for symptoms often linked with sexual abuse.
Physical signs of sexual abuse include:
- Injury to genital, rectal, oral, or breast areas
- Genital pain or itching
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
- Unexplained changes to weight
- Unexplained medical complaints like headaches, stomach aches, etc.
Emotional and behavioral signs of sexual abuse include:
- Significant and unexplained changes in behavior
- Unusual attention-seeking, aggressive, or delinquent behaviors
- Extreme non-compliance or over-compliance
- Depression, crying spells, or suicidal ideation
- Flashbacks or other trauma reactions
- Difficulty sleeping
- Attempts to avoid conversations about potential indicators of abuse
- Resistance to medical examinations
- Withdrawal from activities or people, including friends and family
- Deterioration of peer relationships
- Substance use or eating disorders or other self-destructive behaviors
- Fear or avoidance of specific individuals, genders, or situations
- Avoidance of touch or physical closeness
Individuals who already have physical or mental health conditions may also see existing symptoms get worse. While nursing home patients’ health may decline naturally, if you see any significant changes that happen over a short period and/or cannot be explained by caregivers, they may be a sign of abuse.
Who Suffers from Nursing Home Sexual Abuse?
Abuse can happen to someone of any age, gender, race, disability status, and so on—but, especially among nursing home patients, certain factors make an individual more likely to be targeted. Predators tend to focus their efforts on individuals who cannot defend themselves or ask for help.
There are four main characteristics that correlate with the risk of nursing home sexual abuse:
- Higher levels of dependence can make it harder for someone to report abuse for fear of retaliation.
- Decreased cognitive function, such as the losses associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, may make it easier for a predator to explain away an individual’s reports as false or unreliable.
- Physical frailty can make it harder for an individual to defend themselves against sexual assault.
- Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted than men.
Because of assumptions about nursing home patients’ sexuality (or lack thereof), those who try to report abuse already face an uphill battle. When an individual has additional vulnerabilities, they become a more likely target for an abuser.
What Nursing Home Abuse Perpetrators Look Like
Nursing home sexual abuse is not always committed by caregivers. A resident may abuse those around them. In some cases, this behavior can be predicted by a past criminal record or pattern of sexual abuse. In others, it can also be tied to dementia. Individuals who lose cognitive capabilities often have trouble controlling themselves and/or engage in inappropriate sexual behaviors. Nurses and staffers are responsible for identifying the potential for this behavior and ensuring residents are not left in the same place without oversight.
Nursing home staff members all have some power over residents, and because staffers provide care and attend to daily needs, patients are much more vulnerable to them than to fellow residents. A study of nursing home abuse found the most common offenders are:
- Frontline care staff
The perpetrator in any specific situation may have none of these traits—or all of them. No matter who has assaulted your loved one, they deserve justice, and we can help them find it.
Keeping Our Elders Safe
If you suspect your loved one may have been sexually abused, the first thing you should do is file a report with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. You can also reach out to a long-term care Ombudsman in your city or region. Then, you should contact Peterson & Associates, P.C. to learn about your legal rights.
Sexual assault can leave serious mental and physical scars, and those who are already ailing may suffer additional medical complications. Filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit can help your loved one secure compensation for medical treatment, counseling, and other damages like pain and suffering and emotional distress. Their choice to come forward can also alert others about a predator in their midst—and force the nursing home to address its failure to keep patients safe.
We know handling a sexual abuse case can be traumatic. Our team offers an empathetic approach and acts with discretion in all client matters. If you think your loved one may need help holding a sexual abuser accountable, ask our team what we can do.
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Choosing Our Team
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