Sexual Assault in Nursing Homes

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Madeleine Jones
February 6, 2017

Elder sexual assault can have a significantly detrimental impact on a patient’s physical and mental health. It is a common crime that can permanently diminish an individual’s quality of life and the impact of the abuse often leads to a reduced life expectancy. If you or a family member was seriously injured in a nursing home, contact a Las Vegas personal injury lawyer at Cogburn Law Offices today for a free case consultation.

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Sexual Assault in Nursing Homes

Profile of the Sexually Assaulted

Women are six times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than men. Women who are over the age of 75 and who suffer from deteriorating mental conditions such as Alzheimers or Dementia are at greatest risk of assault.

Studies conducted in the late 1990’s indicate that up to 40% of women with physical disabilities will experience some form of sexual assault. These same studies estimated that half of victims who have developmental disabilities will suffer more than 10 or more episodes of sexual assault. Of these, less than 3% were reported to authorities.

Nationwide, 83% of elder sexual assault victims live in nursing homes or care facilities. Of these, nearly 75% of the assaults take place within the nursing home facility.

Up to 76% of sexual assaults have at least one witness that may include friends, other residents, or employees of the nursing home. In some cases, these incidents are recorded by security cameras within the nursing home or on the cell phone cameras of employees or other residents.

Only about 30% of elder sexual assault victims report the crime to the police. Many of these are not prosecuted due to a lack of physical evidence or witness statements.

Nationwide, more than 1,000 nursing homes have been cited or suspected of mishandling allegations of sexual assault.

Physical Signs of Sexual Abuse

Seniors who have experienced sexual assault in a nursing home can exhibit a number of physical injuries. These may be readily visible to family members and friends, or they may be discovered during the course of a medical examination. However, it’s estimated that only 25% of elder sexual assault victims will experience physical injuries that can be identified and directly linked to the assault.

Nursing home residents who have been abused may have pelvic injuries, bruises within the inner thighs or around the genitals, and they may have difficulty walking or sitting. Victims may also have bloody or torn underwear as well as bruises on the wrists or arms. Finally, family members should be suspicious of any instance where their loved one has acquired a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI).

Behavioral Changes to Note

Many victims of sexual assault will experience sudden and otherwise unexplained changes in mood or behavior. These include withdrawal from social events, sudden agitation, panic attacks, refusal to be left alone with a caregiver, or suicide attempts. These effects are often long-lasting and may or may not be relieved by removing the individual from the nursing home.

Gathering Evidence of Assault

Evidence is crucial in pursuing claims of elder sexual assault. Evidence should be gathered quickly and preserved so that it can establish proof of the assault.

Family members who suspect sexual assault should take their loved one for a thorough medical evaluation documenting the physical injuries. If the assault was recent, family members should contact the police and request that a “rape kit” be completed.

Other evidence that should be gathered includes the individual’s clothing and bedding, as well as any photographic or video evidence of their injuries and the reported location of the assault.

Looking at the Long-Term

Senior sexual assault survivors will require long-term care and mental health treatment to recover from their experience. This can include removal from the facility, counseling, and other forms of therapy. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the mortality rates for senior sexual assault survivors are extremely high. Some studies have shown that this may be over 50% within one year of the incident.

One reason for the high mortality rates is that the stress from the assault exacerbates pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart conditions, etc. For this reason, family members and the patient’s medical team should increase monitoring of these conditions so that they can be properly managed and mitigated.

Pursuing Civil Damages for Sexual Assault

The police and prosecutor can pursue criminal charges against a perpetrator, but they will not pursue damages for civil claims. This requires hiring a Las Vegas nursing home abuse attorney. However, if the individual is convicted of the crime, the doctrine of collateral estoppel allows that information to be entered into evidence during a civil proceeding.

Victims or their families may pursue damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. They may also pursue damages for physical injuries, medical care, and loss of quality of life. These may be pursued against the perpetrator, the nursing home facility, and any representatives or employees of the facility that were complicit in the assault.