Can Nursing Home Residents Be Sexually Abused?

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March 8, 2019 | Nursing Home and Elder Abuse |


“It’s happening all over the country.” A 2017 CNN report helped bring media attention to an issue that is not discussed nearly enough: sexual abuse in nursing homes.

If someone you love resides in a nursing home or other long-term elder care facility, you need to be aware of this issue. By knowing the signs and risk factors, you can help defend your loved one from this horrifying reality.

Definition of Elder Sexual Abuse

Elder sexual abuse can take many forms, but it is defined as nonconsensual or unwanted sexual contact with an elder. Sexual abuse can look like sexual assault, rape, touching or kissing, sexual photography or threats, or forced nudity.

Built into this definition is the significance of consent. If an elderly person is confused or unable to communicate, they cannot give consent.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

Physical signs of elder sexual abuse include the following:

  • Torn, stained, or bloody clothing or bedsheets
  • Unexplained vaginal or rectal bleeding
  • Bruises on genitals, thighs, breasts, or mouth
  • Sudden difficulty walking or sitting
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Pelvic injuries

Look for other signs as well:

  • Panic attacks
  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression or withdrawal
  • Abrupt mood changes
  • Agitation, anxiety, or fear
  • Negative reactions to particular staff members

Unfortunately, one type of abuse is often accompanied by another. Be familiar with the warning signs of nursing home abuse.

Risk Factors of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abusers may assume that seniors are easy targets or that their actions will not be reported. High rates of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of memory impairment among the elderly make it difficult for victims to understand the abuse or describe what happened. Social isolation from family and friends makes the elderly more vulnerable as well.

Elder Sexual Abuse Statistics

There is no comprehensive data collection of nursing home sexual abuse, so to get an idea of how pervasive this issue is, look to groups like the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), which conducts detailed research studies on elder sexual abuse in the United States.

According to PCAR, 83% of elder sexual abuse occurs in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, and elderly women are six times more likely to be sexually abused than elderly men.

Another startling PCAR statistic? Only 30% of elder sexual abuse victims report the abuse to the authorities. In other words, it’s important for you to be able to identify the signs of sexual abuse and act on your loved one’s behalf.

What to Do If You Suspect Elder Sexual Abuse

Take the following steps if you suspect elder sexual abuse:

  1. Speak with your loved one about your suspicions.
  2. Visit the nursing home at different times, including weekdays, weekends, and nights.
  3. Observe how staff members treat residents and how residents treat one another.
  4. Document any evidence that you can.
  5. Contact the authorities and seek legal counsel.

Of course, your priority should be to keep your loved one safe. If necessary, consider moving them to a different nursing home.

Contact a Nursing Home and Elder Abuse Attorney Today

If you think that your elderly loved one is being sexually abused, contact the Indianapolis Nursing Home and Elder Abuse Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you and your family fight for the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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