What Is Elder Sexual Abuse?
Any form of nonconsensual sexual contact with an elder is defined as elder sexual abuse. This can include rape, fondling, showing them sexually-explicit content or making sexually-suggestive comments. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, elder sexual abuse is any form of “non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly person” or “sexual contact with any person incapable of giving consent.”
The definition of elder sexual abuse includes:
- unwanted touching
- sexual assault or battery
- coerced nudity
- sexually-explicit photographing
Sexual abuse can be accompanied by physical and emotional abuse as well. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, elder sexual abuse is far more likely to occur within a nursing home than in the general community. In fact, around 83% of elder sexual abuse victims live in an institutional care setting, like a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Women are about six times more likely to be victims of elder sexual abuse than men. Despite being shockingly common, only around 30% of elderly victims of sexual abuse over the age of 65 years actually report the abuse to the proper authorities.
The question of consent is difficult in cases involving elders, because many seniors, due to dementia or mental illness, are unable to communicate their consent. If an elder has not consented verbally to sexual contact of any kind, it is abuse, plain and simple.
Common Warning Signs Of Sexual Abuse
The typical signs and warning indicators of sexual abuse in the elderly can be either physical or behavioral or both. Common warning signs include:
- Unexplained pelvic injuries
- Problems walking or sitting down
- Contracting a sexually-transmitted disease (STD)
- Torn, bloody or stained underwear
- Bruises in the genital area or upper thighs
- Urinary tract infections
- Bleeding from the anus or genitals
- Irritation or pain in the groin
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including flashbacks, denial and feelings of guilt, hopelessness and rage
- Emotional withdrawal
- Inappropriate, unusual or aggressive sexual behavior
- Suicide attempts
Needless to say, encountering any of these warning signs is deeply disturbing. We understand how difficult this can be. You don’t have to go it alone. Let our experienced team of nursing home abuse attorneys help your family. We are here for you every step of the way.
Who Commits Elder Sexual Abuse?
There is little research on this topic, but sexual abuse is most likely to be committed by someone who is allowed to remain alone with the elder. Studying this topic is made more difficult by the fact that many victims of elder sexual abuse are unable to communicate enough to identify what happened to them or who did it.
In our own case history, our attorneys have encountered cases in which sexual abuse against the elderly was committed by friends, family members, other nursing home residents, nursing home staff members and live-in nursing aides. Statistics from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape bear out this intuition, having found that about 80% of elder sexual abuse is perpetrated by a caregiver to the victim.
Needless to say, nursing homes can be held accountable for allowing sexual abuse to occur. In the event that a nursing home staff member abuses a resident, the facility can be sued for damages for failing to adequately supervise the employee. If another resident sexually abused your loved one, the nursing home may still be held liable for a lack of supervision.
Sexual abuse victims have the right in Pennsylvania to file a lawsuit against nursing home or assisted living facility after the abuse has occurred. Nursing homes are obligated to protect residents from harm, including the harm of sexual abuse.
What Happens After Sexual Abuse In A Nursing Home?
Nursing home employees are mandatory reporters under Pennsylvania law. If a nursing home staff member suspects that sexual abuse or assault is taking place, they are required by law to report their suspicions to the proper authorities. Once reported, the elderly victim will be assigned to a government-employed caregiver who is in charge of investigating the case. This investigator will talk to the senior to figure out what happened.
In the event that the case of elder sexual abuse is corroborated, the resident will be moved to another healthcare environment and removed from their current living situation. They can also receive anxiety medications and sexual abuse counseling at this time.