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Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes: Seeking Redress for the Unforgivable

Woman Angry about Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes

Personal injury and malpractice lawsuits are intended to compensate people who have suffered an injury. But certain types of harm are so offensive, so egregious, that no amount of money can truly make up for what the victim suffered.

One such injury is sexual abuse suffered by nursing home patients. Many people don't even recognize that such a problem exists until it happens to someone they love. Understandably, it's not something that most families are comfortable discussing with others. Sexual abuse in nursing homes is not uncommon, unfortunately, so it's important for families to know the signs and know what to do if they suspect a loved one is being abused.

Sexual abuse is any form of unwanted or non-consensual sexual contact, ranging from sexual harassment and taking of compromising photographs to fondling and penetration. Although money can't make up for abuse, learn why it may still be important to file a lawsuit against the nursing home.

Why Does Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Happen?

It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to harm elderly people or others who are in ill health, but the very vulnerability of nursing home residents helps to create the "perfect storm" leading to abuse. Residents may be too physically weak to resist abuse or too dependent and fearful to report it. Certain residents, like those with dementia or the inability to speak due to neurological injury, may not even be able to report what is happening to them, a fact abusers take advantage of.

There tend to be two primary groups of abusers: nursing home employees or volunteers, and other nursing home residents. Many nursing home staff jobs do not require significant training or skill, meaning that employees may drift into and out of these positions. Depending on the nursing home, there may be no screening or criminal background checks on these employees. The work can be thankless, and is usually poorly paid, leading to employees who are frustrated and inclined to take out their frustration on someone else. Because employees help residents with bathing and toileting, there is an increased opportunity for sexually abusive behavior.

Nursing home residents may also become abusers. Residents in long-term care facilities often have the ability to move about fairly freely within the facility. Residents who are aware of the vulnerability of others, or whose own mental status is an issue, may perpetrate sexual abuse on other residents, intentionally or without full understanding of the import of their actions

Other scenarios include strangers who are able to gain access from the outside and commit abusive acts. In some cases, a relative or friend of a resident will gain access to the nursing home through their relationship, and then abuse the person they know or another vulnerable resident.

Identifying and Taking Action Against Nursing Home Sexual Abuse

Short of being told directly by your loved one or catching a perpetrator in the act, how can you identify whether your loved one is being sexually abused in a nursing home? Here are some signs to look for:

  • A resident who was previously content living at the nursing home begs to be taken home or to another facility
  • A resident exhibits or reports fear of a certain staff member or resident, especially when that person approaches to assist with personal care
  • Underwear that is stained, bloody or torn
  • Bloody or stained bedsheets
  • Unexplained bruising in the area near the resident's genitals, such as on thighs or buttocks
  • Unexplained pain or irritation in the genital area or pain when walking or sitting
  • "Burns" on wrists from restraints
  • New diagnosis of genital infection or a sexually transmitted disease

Of course some of these signs, such as difficulty walking, could stem from a number of causes. However, anything that makes you concerned is worth investigating further.

If you suspect sexual abuse, and your loved one is able to communicate, you may ask them if someone has been touching them or doing anything else to them without their permission. When inquiring, remain calm, supportive and matter-of-fact; abuse is very hard for most victims to talk about due to feelings of embarrassment and shame. If they do report that abuse has taken place, remove them from the facility for an examination at a hospital. Likewise, if the resident is unable to communicate or remember abuse, but you suspect that it happened, have them examined at a hospital. Communicate your suspicions or the patient's report to the staff, and ask for police involvement.

Your loved one's safety and recovery should be the first priority. Once your loved one is secure, you should consider taking action against the facility where the abuse took place. Even if the abuse was not perpetrated by an employee, the facility could still be liable if they allowed an environment that permitted abuse to happen.

This is a very stressful situation in which to find yourself: you may be feeling guilt at not recognizing abuse sooner, or for placing your loved one in the nursing home to begin with. Your loved one may be experiencing post-traumatic stress and shame. Rest assured that the blame does not lie with either of you, but with those who were charged with caring for and protecting your loved one and failed at that duty.

Speak with an experienced Oregon nursing home negligence attorney for compassionate guidance and strong advocacy. A lawsuit cannot erase or make up for what your loved one suffered, but it can provide resources to pay for their ongoing care in a facility you trust. Just as important, it will hold the facility that failed to protect them in the first place accountable.

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Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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