Americans aged 65 and over are one of our most vulnerable populations. As we age and illnesses develop, we become more dependent on others, whether through one-on-one care at home or at nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. We see the doctor more frequently, and many elderly Americans eventually require partial or full-time care and assistance for basic needs.
But far too often, the trust patients and residents place in the hands of nursing home staff and in-home caregivers is broken because of sexual abuse. The effects of elder abuse are extensive and can cause irreparable physical, emotional, and mental damage to the victim.
Unfortunately, elder sexual abuse is widely underreported. Some studies suggest that for every one report of sexual abuse against those 65+, as much as another 24 go unreported. Since those in nursing homes and other healthcare facilities are often disabled – physically or cognitively – their ability to protect and speak up for themselves is greatly hindered.
If you suspect a loved one has been sexually abused at a healthcare facility, being informed about the warning signs, risk factors, how to get help, and your legal options can greatly help the healing process – not to mention, hold the abuser and even the organization or facility accountable. At Herman, Herman & Katz, our experienced Louisiana sexual abuse attorneys are dedicated to helping survivors of nursing home abuse seek justice. We offer a safe, supportive, and compassionate environment to advise nursing home sex abuse survivors and their family members about the best legal path.
Where Does Elder Sexual Abuse Occur?
It can be difficult for loved ones to realize that they can no longer care for an elderly family member. It’s even more challenging to take the necessary steps to ensure their needs are safely and adequately met through placement in a nursing home or other healthcare facility.
So, where does elder sexual abuse occur? Some of the most common settings include:
- Nursing homes
- Long-term care facilities
- Psychiatric facilities
- Retirement homes
- Doctors’ offices
- Rehabilitation centers
These healthcare settings provide essential services to ensure the wellbeing of – and even provide life-saving assistance to – its patients and residents. When sexual abuse by medical professionals occurs, it’s not only a violation of trust but also against the law. Everyone should know what to expect in a medical setting, so they’re aware of standard and acceptable practices and their rights as a patient. Some of these include the right to a private exam, to remove only the clothing that’s necessary for an exam or procedure, to ask questions that are answered in a language that’s understood, and have someone present during an appointment or treatment.
Who Abuses Elders in Healthcare Facilities?
Many people could be responsible for sexually abusing elders in nursing homes and care facilities: doctors, nurses, therapists, rehabilitative workers, and others tasked with providing healthcare services. In-home support workers and loved ones who are caregivers are also known sources of abuse. But those who commit these crimes are not always employees or medical professionals; fellow residents and patients at a nursing or long-term care have also been reported for sexual abuse.
Nursing home residents are at an even greater risk of being abused when there are staffing issues. For example, facilities that are understaffed tend to have a high turnover and hire unqualified employees. Failure to do staff background checks, poor training and procedures, and patients who receive little one-on-one care are other risk factors of sexual abuse in healthcare facilities.
Warning Signs of Nursing Home Sexual Abuse
With the baby boomer generation aging, the number of elderly Americans is projected to rise in the coming years drastically. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older by 2030, and by 2060, there will be close to 95 million Americans in that group. The influx of people who will need care and treatment means many more will be at risk of being subjected to healthcare mistreatment, including sexual abuse. Protecting those dependent on others and preventing abuse in nursing homes is crucial.
For some victims, there are no outward physical or emotional signs of the trauma. But in many cases, both subtle and obvious warning signs of elder sexual abuse may occur.
The physical warning signs of victims sexually abused in a healthcare facility can include: bruising, swelling, or abrasions, torn clothing or new and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.
The mental, emotional, and behavioral signs of sexual abuse may include: depression, anxiety, withdrawn behavior, angry outbursts and mood swings, suicidal thoughts, distrust of others, or fear of being left alone with someone.
Sometimes, the loved ones of a nusing home resident or patient in a healthcare facility are the only voice they have. Therefore, being aware of the warning signs of elder sexual abuse – and knowing what to do if you are concerned or suspicious – can help protect this vulnerable population.
How to Prevent Sexual Abuse in Healthcare Facilities
Sexual abuse happens to people of all ages and circumstances, but women and those with dementia have an increased risk of experiencing these crimes. What steps can be taken by the resident or patient and their loved ones to lower the risks?
To help prevent and identify elder abuse in nursing homes and healthcare facilities:
- Regularly visit family in care
- Know the warning signs of sexual abuse
- Hire reputable in-home caregivers (background checks, reviews, references)
- Research the facility beforehand
- Report concerns
- Ask questions
- Learn care policies and procedures
- Know patient and resident rights
If possible, talk openly with your loved ones about the care and treatment they are or will be getting when they move into a nursing home. Educate them on what’s okay and what isn’t and encourage an open dialogue about their experience in care.
Why is Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Underreported?
Sexual elder abuse includes any form of non-consensual sexual acts and advances. Statistically speaking, sexual abuse is the least common type of abuse in nursing homes, but it’s thought to be widely underreported for several reasons.
Victims may be physically disabled and fear speaking out against the person or facility they depend on. Other victims have cognitive impairments, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. In these cases, the resident cannot give consent, and the impairment adds to the difficulty of reporting nursing home sexual abuse; they may be unable to speak or understand what happened or even ignored when they make an allegation because they’re not believed. In some cases, elderly victims of sexual abuse are incapacitated at the time of the violation and completely unaware of the crime.
In addition to the barriers to reporting sexual abuse at nursing homes, reports often don’t go anywhere. They’re covered up and ignored, and victims are silenced through threats and aren’t taken seriously. It can leave elders who are sexually abused feeling helpless and shamed.
Reporting Sexual Abuse in Louisiana Nursing Homes
Unlike the clergy sexual abuse cases that have plagued Louisiana and the nation’s news headlines for two decades and cost the Roman Catholic Church billions of dollars in victim settlements, sexual abuse in nursing homes is rarely talked about or reported.
But reporting sexual abuse in healthcare facilities and settings can help hold the abuser and the facility responsible. Sometimes, it can even prevent it from happening to others. If you’ve been abused, suspect a resident or patient has been abused, or have seen it happen, reporting it to the facility is the first step. Nursing homes have an obligation to a duty of care that requires them to inform the appropriate authorities of all sexual abuse claims.
If the facility fails to follow the appropriate procedures, you can directly contact the police and Louisiana Adult Protective Services. Notifying the relevant professional association or medical board is also something to consider, especially if the facility or organization the perpetrator works for takes little or no action.
If you are unsure of the proper steps to take regarding a nursing home sexual abuse incident, it also can be beneficial to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Our attorneys at Herman, Herman & Katz are available to listen to your story in complete confidence and can explain the next steps you should take. When you contact us, you are not committing to anything.
Legal Implications of Nursing Home Sexual Abuse in Louisiana
In Louisiana, nursing homes are required to do a background check on all employees and residents. However, some facilities don’t fulfill their obligation, putting those in their care at risk.
Louisiana law considers those who commit physical or mental injury to someone 60+ to be elder abuse. With close to 300 nursing homes in the state and an upcoming surge of older Americans that will require care, reporting sexual abuse in these settings is important. Knowing your legal options if this disturbing and highly violating crime occurs can help hold the abuser accountable. Sometimes, the facility is liable as well, and a civil claim could seek damages from both the abuser and the facility.
After reporting sexual abuse of a resident or patient at a nursing home and the victim is safe from harm, learn your legal options by contacting an experienced Louisiana sexual abuse attorney. The attorneys at Herman, Herman & Katz have helped survivors of sexual abuse in nursing homes and healthcare facilities get the justice they deserve for their suffering. Contact us online or at 1-844-7626 for a free, confidential consultation.