The sexual abuse of senior citizens is a heinous, shameful, and upsetting subject. As many as 5 million elders are abused each year, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA).
Only one in 14 cases are reported to authorities, making it difficult to track, regulate and prosecute sexual abuse in nursing homes.
Regardless of the challenges, sexual abuse in nursing homes is a very real occurrence, and a long-overlooked scourge that America must confront and eradicate.
About Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes
The NCOA defines elder sexual abuse as “touching, fondling, intercourse, or any other sexual activity with an older adult, when the older adult is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened, or physically forced.” Numerous physical and mental irregularities can indicate sexual abuse.
|Signs and indicators of elder sexual abuse|
Between 2010 and 2015, nearly 230 nursing homes across the United States were cited for failing to protect residents from such unspeakable acts. And to date, comprehensive data detailing the number of sexual abuse cases reported in a nursing home or assisted living facility are nowhere to be found.
Adding to the already disturbing facts, potential abusers are most likely to target female nursing home residents suffering from dementia. Results from a study conducted by the National Institute of Justice claim, “the older the victim, the less likely an offender will be convicted of sexual abuse.”
Reporting Claims of Senior Abuse
More often than not, patients are too confused about what has happened, with some abusers convincing the patients their own dementia caused them to imagine it. According to a CNN investigation of nursing home patients who were sexually assaulted, “Police viewed the claims as unlikely at the outset, dismissing potential victims because of failing memories or jumbled allegations.”
Some incidents are not reported at all, for fear of retaliation from the abuser. In some cases, a nursing home resident may rationalize or diminish the scale or impact of the abuse, out of some belief that living in an abusive environment is better than facing the trauma of being transferred to another facility, or becoming a burden to their families.
Tracking and Investigating Senior Abuse
Because sex abuse allegations are not placed in a separate category from other forms of abuse, most U.S. states are unable to accurately report which percentage of abuse investigations are of a sexual nature.
Not even the federal government tracks all sexual abuse allegations from nursing homes. There are laws and regulations in place, which are clearly not always followed to the letter by some facilities. Critics are right to insist that whatever enforcement currently exists is nowhere near enough.
Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau dictates that the current elderly population, approximately 50 million, is expected to reach 98.2 million by 2060. Whether nursing homes lose federal funding over sexual abuse charges, or face more shortages of staff and other resources, it remains to be seen how America will respond to the epidemic enveloping our beloved elderly communities.
It is urged that initial reports are made as soon as possible after the abuse has taken place to ensure any potential evidence has not been tampered with.
If you suspect your loved one may be a victim of sexual abuse in their nursing home, contact the following resource providers:
Local Law Enforcement — Police or Sheriff and your county district attorney’s office
Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program at 1-800-231-4024
Office of State Attorney General, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA) at 1-800- 722-0432