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Sexual Assault

Our California Attorneys Fights for the Rights of Seniors Abuse in Nursing Homes and By Caregivers

Sexual assault is a serious form of abuse perpetrated on the elderly. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 out of 10 Americans over the age of 60 has been victimized by some type of abuse and around 5 million older seniors are abused annually. Very few of these cases of abuse are ever reported, with only 1 in 14 cases coming to the attention of authorities. When abuse happens, the risk of death for seniors is 300 times greater than if no abuse had occurred.

Sexual elder abuse occurs in both nursing homes and private homes. The abuse may be perpetrated by caregivers, including home health aides and nursing home staff. Fellow nursing home residents can also be sexually abusive to other seniors in care facilities, especially if nursing home staff fails to provide adequate supervision.  Abuse can occur both when non-consensual sexual actions are taken against seniors, as well as in situations where seniors are not able to give consent as a result of conditions such as dementia which affects their mental abilities.

California nursing home and elder abuse lawyers can provide assistance in cases where sexual abuse occurs. An attorney can help victims and families take action for physical harm resulting in sexual abuse, including in situations where seniors develop sexually-transmitted diseases. An sexual abuse attorney can also provide assistance in recovering compensation for the emotional damage that the sexual abuse causes.

The Risks of Elder Sexual Abuse: Sexual Assault in Nursing Homes and Other Facilities

The National Council in Aging defines sexual abuse of seniors to include touching, intercourse, fondling and other activities with seniors who cannot comprehend, do not consent, are physically forced to engage in sexual acts or are coerced into the sexual behavior through violence. Sexual assault among the elderly is not about sexual attraction — it is about a power relationship.

The risks to senior abuse victims are grave. Vulnerable seniors could suffer physical injury, could be made sick due to sexually transmitted diseases, and could develop conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  There is at last a 50 percent likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder after a rape, and sexual assault has been linked to the development of both anxiety disorders and depression, according to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence.

What Counts as Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault in the elder abuse context carries its plain and ordinary meaning. It refers to any unwanted or non-consensual sexual contact, assault or rape between the abuser and the victim. It can be accomplished either through sheer physical strength or through threats, coercion, or manipulation. There are a wide range of behaviors that fall under the umbrella of sexual assault, with some of the most common being:

  • Unwanted touching of the victim’s private areas
  • Rape (sexual intercourse against the victim’s will)
  • Sodomy (anal or oral sex against the victim’s will)
  • Forcible penetration with objects
  • Exposing oneself to the victim
  • Masturbating in the presence of the victim
  • Taking sexually explicit photographs or films of the victim
  • Showing the victim sexually explicit photographs or films
  • Removing the victim’s clothes

A unique aspect of sexual assault as it relates to elder abuse is that, in some cases, the victim is unable to resist the abuser’s sexual advances. This can be due to the abuser’s overpowering physical strength or the victim’s mental or physical incapacitation, among other issues.

How to Identify Possible Sexual Assault

Elder abuse of any variety can often be difficult to detect given the enormous power abusers typically hold over their victims. A key tactic of abusers is to isolate their victims from friends, family, and in the nursing home abuse context, other residents in order to escape detection. Friends and family members should thus be on the lookout for one or more of the following signs that sexual assault has occurred:

  • Bruises to the victim’s inner thighs, genitals, or breasts
  • Bleeding from the victim’s genitals or anus
  • Ripped and torn underclothing
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • New difficulty walking or sitting down
  • Sudden, unexplained anxiety or agitation
  • Emotional withdrawal or silence
  • Panic attacks
  • Suicide attempts

The red flags of other forms of elder abuse, such as physical elder abuse, can often be explained away plausibly by the abuser. For example, an abuser who hits a victim and causes a bruise could claim that the victim fell and that the fall caused the bruise. However, the red flags for sexual assault are not as easy to explain away. In some cases, such as where the victim develops a sexually transmitted disease, there is only one plausible explanation for the injury. If you notice that someone you care about is displaying any of the above red flags, please contact a California nursing home abuse lawyer.

Resident-to-Resident Sexual Assault in Nursing Homes

Anyone can commit elder abuse —caregivers, medical personnel, and even members of the clergy. Resident-to-resident sexual assault may occur. This type of abuse occurs within nursing homes wherein one resident becomes the victim of abuse from another resident, including sexual assault. Holding residents liable for the sexual assault of other residents can often be difficult because such acts can sometimes be the result of a cognitive defect. However, nursing homes have a duty to protect their residents from abuse, including abuse from other residents. If nursing home staff knew or should have known that resident-to-resident sexual assault or any violence was occurring and failed to take reasonable measures to prevent it, the nursing home may be held liable for the abuse. Please contact a California elder sexual abuse lawyer for more information about holding nursing homes responsible for the actions of their residents.

How Common is Elder Sexual Assault?

It is difficult to know with certainty how common sexual assault against the elderly is. According to the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center, there were a total of 597 reports of sexual assault in nursing homes in California in 2019. However, this data applies only to nursing homes, and it is well-known that sexual assault against the elderly is severely underreported.

Sexual Assault Frequently Goes Unreported

Most elder abuse goes unreported, but sexual assault is likely the most underreported category of abuse for several reasons:

  • Victims are ashamed or embarrassed to report the assault
  • Victims fear retaliation by their abuser, upon whom they depend for care
  • Victims are not aware that the sexual assault is occurring
  • Victims are mentally or physically unable to report the assault
  • The victim is not taken seriously when he or she reports the assault
  • Nursing home staff fail to report the assault

Given the seriousness of sexual assault against elders and the reluctance of many victims to come forward, you should consider contacting a California sexual elder abuse lawyer if you are aware of sexual assault against an elder.

Taking Action After Sexual Assaults on the Elderly with Our Senior Care Attorneys 

Family members of seniors in nursing homes and family members of seniors with residential caregivers should watch for red flags, including missing or torn undergarments or clothing, redness around the genitals or breasts, or exhibiting fear or anger around a particular care provider. Sudden changes in mood or appetite, as well as PTSD and depression, can also be indicators of abuse.

Abuse, when suspected, should be reported. Senior victims of sexual assault and their families can pursue civil claims for compensation for damages resulting from the inappropriate sexual behavior.  A nursing home can be held accountable for abuse by staff members and for abuse by residents facilitated through negligent supervision. The nursing home abuse lawyers at the Evans Law Firm, Inc. can provide help with responding to suspected abuse. Contact us today

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