Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes More Widespread than Most Believe

by | Jul 24, 2017

The number of elderly individuals who reside in nursing homes or receive assisted care has increased significantly in recent years. With aging Baby Boomers and more of these services becoming available, those numbers are only expected to increase. As such, seniors and families making the decision to opt for nursing care over other options, such as living with relatives, need to feel confident their safety will be ensured. Although many Americans make this decision because they believe it is the best and safest option, that is not always the case.

Most people know that nursing home abuse can take many forms, from sheer neglect to physical violence to financial exploitation. They may also know that it can and does happen, with roughly 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 having experienced some form of elder abuse, according to the National Council on Aging. Few, however, find the idea of sexual abuse against nursing home residents anything but unthinkable. According to a recent CNN investigation, journalists have found that sexual abuse and assault in nursing facilities is more common than most think.

In its investigation, CNN analyzed troves of state and federal data and conducted interviews with regulators, experts, and victims’ families. Although the nature of sexual abuse makes it difficult to determine how many victims there are, it is clear that the problem is more widespread that it is openly discussed.

Additionally, investigators found that there are systemic failures when it comes to preventing or stopping the abuse. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Negligence – In some cases, nursing homes fail to uphold their legal obligations of taking reasonable measures to protect the safety of elderly residents. From failing to identify warning signs to failures when it comes to taking action, negligence can allow sexual abuse to occur and persist without consequence. Often, nursing homes are slow to investigate and report allegations due to a reluctance to believe them. Because any reasonable person would take action when claims of sexual abuse are raised, this constitutes a clear breach of duty. In fact, CNN found that over 1,000 nursing homes in its investigation were cited for mishandled suspected cases of sexual abuse.
  • Concealment – As it has been the case with other instances of sexual abuse in institutional settings, there may be willful attempts to conceal abuse. This often stems from the top-down, when those in positions of authority actively cover up reports of abuse and encourage employees to do the same.
  • Victims – Nursing home abuse can be difficult to detect and stop in large part because victims are in vulnerable states of health. For example, officials often have a difficult time protecting elderly victims who are not able to remember what happened, speak about the incident, or identify their perpetrator, either as a result of shame or various cognitive deficits that come with aging.
  • Law enforcement – Law enforcement and government officials also play a role in the systemic failures of stopping sexual abuse. In cases reviewed by CNN, investigators found that police also sometimes view claims as unlikely, or run into difficulties when interviewing victims with failing memories or disjointed allegations.
  • Regulators – Failures in government oversight of nursing homes also make it easier for abuse to persist. This is often due to the high standards required for substantiating abuse, and failures to identify patterns of repeated allegations against individual caregivers.

The CNN investigation goes on to detail stories of victims who were sexually abused in nursing homes. Many of these stories share the common theme of victims and families being failed by multiple parties and at multiple stages of intervention, from initial allegations and reports to actions taken, or not taken, by nursing homes and law enforcement.

Perhaps the most consistent theme in stories of nursing home abuse is that predators and wrongdoers know that elderly residents are easy prey. This fact alone should shape the policies and processes for dealing with nursing home sexual abuse in a different way, and to prioritize the safety of residents who may fall victim to repeated abuses or abuses committed by a single caregiver. Like most difficult endeavors, these changes don’t always happen easily or quickly, which is why victims and families often turn to the civil justice system in order to make their voices heard.

By pursuing civil nursing home abuse claims, victims and families have a forum to state their case and explain why the conduct and failures of nursing homes led to abuse. In addition to providing the opportunity for victims and families to secure justice and compensation for their damages, these civil lawsuits also play an invaluable role in raising awareness, holding at-fault parties accountable, and sparking the changes that are so desperately needed when it comes to better detecting and stopping sexual abuse.

At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our Washington, DC nursing home abuse attorneys have extensive experience representing victims of abuse and sexual assault, and we are passionate about harnessing the power of the civil justice system – both for our clients and for the general public. By helping victims and families make their voices heard and securing justice on their behalves, we can play an important role in highlighting the need for a better system that doesn’t continually fail to protect the abused.

If you have questions regarding elder abuse in Washington, DC, Maryland, or Virginia, our legal team is readily available to discuss your rights and options. Contact us for a free and confidential consultation.

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