While physical elder abuse might be the most visible, and emotional abuse might be the most common, there are many other types of elder abuse to which nursing home residents are regularly exposed. This includes sexual abuse. While less frequently reported (only 7% of the complaints filed in 2010 regarded sexual abuse), most of these cases go unreported. It is essential for loved ones, other family members and friends to understand the potential for serious breaches in nursing homes and to be vigilant regarding the health and wellbeing of their loved ones.
What Is Sexual Elderly Abuse?
The Centers for Disease Control defines sexual abuse of the elderly as, “forced or unwanted sexual interaction (touching and non-touching acts) of any kind with an older adult. This may include, but is not limited to, forced or unwanted completed or attempted contact between the penis and the vulva or the penis and the anus involving penetration, however slight; forced or unwanted contact between the mouth and the penis, vulva or anus; forced or unwanted penetration of the anal or genital opening of another person by a hand, finger or other object; forced or unwanted intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks. These acts also qualify as sexual abuse if they are committed against an incapacitated person who is not competent to give informed approval.”
How Common Is Sexual Elderly Abuse?
Sexual abuse of the elderly within nursing homes and other care facilities is lower than physical or emotional abuse, but still frighteningly high. In fact, one in 10 respondents to a survey conducted by the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health reported they had been abused by a caregiver in such a facility within the year of the study. Over 11% of all respondents had been abused, with just under 1% reporting they had been sexually abused. Interestingly, the study also found that the actual rate of abuse was 24 times higher than what was reported. So, for every one person that reports being sexually abused in a care facility, there are 24 others who do not report it.
Types of Sexual Assault of the Elderly
The types of sexual assault of the elderly mirror those committed on younger people throughout the country. Assault and rape are common, but you will also find groping/touching, nude photography (coerced), sodomy and more. Any of these, when consent is not given, should be considered sexual abuse of the elderly.
Knowing the Signs of Elder Sexual Abuse
To protect your loved one from the threat of sexual abuse by staff or other residents at a nursing home or other care facility, it is important to know the signs of such abuse. They can include the following:
- Bruises: Look for bruises around the breasts, as well as around the genitals and on the thighs. These can be very clear signs that something is going on.
- Bleeding: If you notice or your loved one complains about anal or vaginal bleeding, this can be a clear sign that elder sexual abuse is happening.
- Infections: Unexplained genital or anal infections can be very good signs that elder sexual abuse is occurring.
- STDs: If your elderly loved one is diagnosed with a new sexually transmitted disease, suspect elder sexual abuse.
- Damaged or Stained Clothing: If you notice torn or bloodied clothing in your loved one’s laundry or closet, it is a good sign that sexual abuse has occurred.
- Direct Statements: It is always important to listen to what your loved one tells you, and if they report being groped, assaulted or raped, to act on that information immediately.
What Should You Do?
So, what should you do if you’ve noticed signs of sexual abuse, or your loved one talks about being touched or even raped? The first thing to do is to report it to your state’s hotline, and then the police. Next, you should immediately contact an elder abuse attorney with experience representing elderly residents and their families in abuse cases. An experienced attorney can help you move forward and find justice for your loved one.