Many of us are instinctively trained to look out and make sure that our loved ones who may be in nursing homes are being treated safely by nursing home staff, and that nursing home staff and doctors are being attentive to our loved ones’ needs. What many of us don’t think about when it comes to potential dangers in nursing homes, is the risk that comes from other patients.
Sexual Assault or Abuse – Who Does It and Who are the Victims?
The risk from other patients often comes in the form of sexual assault or abuse. Although all nursing home residents can be victims, many studies indicate that female residents are more likely to be victimized, as are residents with dementia, or impaired memory.
The people who do the victimizing can be other residents, but also can be other staff. However, resident-on-resident abuse is more common.
Nursing homes often have to balance the need for consenting adults in homes to have adult sexual relations if they wish, with the impaired cognitive abilities that many residents may have, which may make them unable to ever truly give meaningful consent.
Federal Laws About Abuse or Assault
There are laws that are meant to protect residents. Every state has its own, and federal law even protects residents from resident-on-resident violence or abuse.
Facilities are legally required to train staff to recognize and avoid resident-on-resident abuse. Nursing homes must do background checks, and cannot hire anybody who has a history of abuse or any non-criminal disciplinary action against them that is related to any kind of abuse-related charge.
All elder abuse found must be reported to law enforcement and the state, and the nursing home must do a thorough investigation documenting the investigation, and report the results to the applicable state agency.
How Can You Tell if Someone is Being Sexually Assaulted?
There are some ways that you can tell that your loved one may be abused or a victim of assault. Some of the signs are physical and others aren’t so obvious but could be signals of abuse.
Physically, bruising or injury to the genital areas, the thighs, or chest, transmission of STDs, clothing that is bloodied in the private areas, or even new and unexplained difficulty standing or walking can be signals of abuse.
Other times, the signs won’t be so obvious. Family and friends should look for their loved one/resident to be more agitated than usual. The resident may not want to engage socially with others and may withdraw within him or herself. Sudden, unexplained changes in attitude—such as unexplained outbursts, or unexplained refusals to communicate—can also be signs. Depression, anxiety, or fear that has no other explanation, could also be a sign that something is wrong.
What to Do if You Suspect Resident of Resident Sexual Abuse
If you suspect a loved one has been a victim of sexual assault, the first thing to do is to report it to the nursing home staff (that includes reporting it to the person in charge, or the head administrator—not just an orderly or a nurse)-even if you are suspect of the reliability of what your loved one/resident is telling you.
Other people or agencies that you may want to contact to make the report, include the local police, the state licensing agency, and adult protective services.
You certainly can review your loved one\’s medical or nursing home records (a good practice to do periodically, regardless of any suspicions of assault). Although records will likely not specifically mention that your loved one has been a victim of sexual assault, you may see complaints of pain, or injuries, that are consistent with abuse.
Who is Liable?
Quite obviously, the home itself can be liable for injuries if the abuse comes from nursing home staff.
But even if a rape, or a sexual assault, comes at the hands of another resident, the nursing home can be liable as well. Much of a nursing home’s liability depends on what they knew and when; many homes are aware that some residents may be dangerous, or that other residents may be particularly vulnerable, yet the homes do little to protect residents.
Many will just ignore complaints made by residents, dismissing the complaints to dementia or communication problems. They may even overlook (or ignore, for fear of being sued) otherwise obvious signs of abuse.
Families and residents can recover damages for the violations of their bodies when a sexual assault occurs in a home. Many juries have awarded significant juries for things like pain, suffering, anxiety, and the physical damage, that a sexual assault causes to vulnerable nursing home residents.
Call a North Carolina nursing home abuse attorney to discuss your nursing home injury today if you suspect that a loved one may have been a victim of sexual assault or abuse.