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What to do if you suspect sexual abuse in a nursing facility

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WHO estimates that between 4 and 6% of elderly people experience some form of abuse. Studies estimate that roughly 0.6% are exposed to sexual abuse. Despite low reports of sexual abuse in nursing homes nationwide, the unfortunate reality of this issue is that it may be more extensive than we think.

Sexual abuse is any type of non-consensual sexual contact from employees, caregivers, other residents, visitors, or other persons. This includes, but is not limited to, rape, unwanted touching, forced nudity, as well as explicit photographs, including while the resident is being cared for.

Though all nursing home residents are susceptible to sexual abuse, women and residents with dementia are much more likely to be victims. Those with physical and/or mental disabilities may be unable to defend themselves and therefore are more vulnerable. Residents have a right to consensual sex, but those with cognitive disabilities may be unable to give consent. It’s important to recognize the signs of sexual abuse so you can act:

  • Bruising on or around the genital area;
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases or infections;
  • Behavioral changes, including increased fear or anxiety around specific persons at the facility and/or;
  • New and unexplained bloodstains on clothing or bedsheets.

Documenting the abuse

As soon as you believe your loved one is being harmed, document anything you deem suspicious. Recording your observations can make the reporting process much easier and strengthen any potential lawsuit. Be as detailed as possible and include photos or videos if necessary.

Seek medical care

Doctors are equipped to help you identify sexual abuse. They can assist with additional services like medication and counseling referrals. The effects of sexual abuse can cause lifelong emotional distress, PTSD, depression, and anxiety if left untreated, so it’s important to seek professional care.

How to report complaints of sexual abuse

If you suspect that your loved one has experienced sexual abuse at a nursing home, it’s imperative that you report it to someone immediately. Consider taking the following steps:

Make sure your loved one is safe and free from immediate danger. Ensure that the resident is having their care needs met and is safe in their current environment.

Report the incident to law enforcement. Call 911 or your local law enforcement agency for immediate help. If possible, do not bathe, or wash any clothing and/or bedsheets used at the time of the abuse. Law enforcement may be able to file criminal charges for sexual abuse.

Contact the facility’s administrator and ombudsman. An ombudsman serves as an advocate for nursing home residents. They are responsible for addressing complaints of abuse and educating residents on available resources. The National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center can help you locate your state or local ombudsman.

Call Adult Protective Services. Visit your state’s website for APS, or the National Adult Protective Services Association’s website to find out how you can report online or by phone.

Check in with your loved one. Any type of sexual abuse is traumatic. Talk to your loved one about how they are feeling and how you can assist them during this difficult time.

Take legal action. Sexual abuse causes both physical and emotional harm, sometimes lifelong. An attorney can help you pursue compensation as a result of these injuries. If you or someone you know has endured sexual abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility or has experienced negligence through the inappropriate handling of a sexual assault claim, please call us at (901) 322-4232 for a free consultation. Our attorneys have years of experience handling nursing home abuse cases.