The Unmentionable (Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes)
Nursing home sexual abuse, because of the physical and psychological damage the victim suffers, are the hardest stories of nursing home abuse we at the Consumer Justice Group hear and our lawyers bring to trial. Too often these criminal acts against our clients’ loved ones only come to light after many instances of abuse. Worse, for every one we prosecute, many more go unvoiced.
Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Defined
Sexual abuse comes in many forms. Sometimes the act is an assault, such as forced penetrative acts or fondling. Other times contact between bodies is not made, such as in abuse cases of sexual harassment or when staff or residents expose themselves to another resident. Any act of a sexual nature occurring without your loved one’s consent constitutes a form of abuse.
Some common forms of sexual abuse include:
- Forced nudity
- Pornographic picture taking or being shown pornographic material
- Telling inappropriate jokes or stories
- Unwanted sexual touching (including whipping, pinching, and punching or kissing)
- Having a resident inappropriately touch or kiss another’s body
Why Sexual Abuse Goes Unreported
There are many reasons why cases of nursing home sexual abuse go unreported. Often generational beliefs about sex and gender make it difficult for a resident to come forward. Sometimes the abused feels ashamed. Sometimes they are unsure of how to define the sexual act, though they know it makes them feel uncomfortable. Other sexually abused residents feel they have no one to speak to or suffer from dementia and are not believed.
The psychological symptoms following a sexual assault have historically varied considerably among the abused and complicate matters. Some victims appear paranoid and frantic. Sometimes the abused remain calm and composed on the surface in a forced attempt to convince themselves that nothing untoward has happened. Understand that emotional reactions to sexual abuse are varied. Please do not ignore your loved one’s claims of abuse just because he or she isn’t acting “abused.” Lend a sympathetic ear and be aware of the physical signs of abuse.
Physical Signs of Sexual Abuse
Some forms of sexual abuse found in nursing homes leave little or no visible marks. In more physical cases of sexual abuse, the signs can be more apparent. Still, a resident might try to hide them for any number of reasons listed previously. Some physical warning signs include:
- Bruising around breasts, upper abdomen, or inner thigh
- Bleeding from vagina or anus
- Presence of a sexually transmitted disease
- Troubles walking or discomfort when sitting
- Irritation or itching in genitals
It is important to obtain medical help immediately to document any of these signs. Elderly persons who experience sexually abuse can suffer serious internal bleeding, an increased risk of infections, and bone damage to the pelvis and hips.
What to do When You are Told about Sexual Abuse
The avenues open for younger victims of sexual assault are not always available to victims in a nursing home. If a loved one begins a conversation about how they have been made uncomfortable by the actions of a staff member or other nursing home resident, try not to express strong senses of shock or skepticism. Show concern, encourage the victim to speak, and take notes of the conversation. Then contact a medical authority immediately afterwards to document what’s been said. Nursing homes often fail to chart this abuse, so involving the police and doctors outside the nursing home makes good sense.