Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes: You’re Not Alone
Vulnerable seniors in nursing homes are getting raped and sexually abused by facility staff members and caregivers who are paid to take care of them. In the United States, thousands of cases of nursing home sexual abuse are reported every year.
Victims of Sexual Abuse
Nursing home sexual abuse often goes undetected for weeks, months, or even years because symptoms are not always obvious. When family members and friends don’t visit on a regular basis, the signs of sexual assault and trauma may remain hidden. In many cases, elderly residents are intentionally victimized because of their medical conditions. Residents who have cognitive dysfunction such as dementia and Alzheimer’s become prime targets for sexual abuse because they have difficulty remembering things and can’t tell anyone about the incident.
Sexual abuse in nursing homes includes a variety of acts such as inappropriate touching, viewing pornographic materials, rape, and sexual assault. Elderly victims suffer mild to severe physical injuries, as well as emotional trauma that impacts their health and mental status. In some cases, victims are threatened or intimidated by their abuser. They are told they won’t receive their medications, food, baths, and family visits if they speak out about the abuse. In a frail, elderly person who is already suffering from serious health conditions, sexual abuse can cause life-threatening injuries.
Unfortunately, many victims of sexual abuse who can speak out often don’t because they feel shame or fear retaliation from their abuser. Nursing home staff and administration who know about the abuse often don’t report it to authorities for fear of fines and violations, job terminations, and facility shut-downs. In some cases, abusers are simply transferred to a different nursing home where they often perpetrate sexual abuse on residents in a new facility.
Recognizing the Signs
Since nursing home sexual abuse can be difficult to spot, it’s essential for family members and friends to recognize the signs and symptoms. Typical signs of elderly sexual abuse include:
- Bruising, hand, or fingerprints on buttocks, breasts, and inner thighs
- Bruising and/or bleeding in the genital area
- Bloody, stained, or torn undergarments
- Blood stains on clothing, linen, or bed sheets
- Pain when sitting
- Unexplained fear, anxiety or depression, and withdrawal
If signs of sexual abuse are noticed or suspected, filing a report with authorities should be done immediately. In Illinois, reports should be filed with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).