Any type of abuse against seniors is unforgivable, but sexual abuse is particularly vile. Many victims of sexual abuse in nursing homes are physically or cognitively disabled, making them easy targets for predators. Nursing facilities often don’t have the tools to deal with the legal consequences of such abuse, much less the social stigma of housing abusers and the financial burden of paying the fines that come with abuse issues. Therefore, many nursing homes “hide” evidence that sexual abuse has occurred at their facility, providing a false sense of security for future residents and their families.
Sexual Abuse In Nursing Homes: An Unreported Epidemic
According to recent studies, 70% of all reported senior sexual abuse occurs in nursing homes. Unfortunately, for every sexual abuse case that is reported, twenty-four incidences go unreported. This puts the occurrence of sexual abuse in nursing facilities as beyond acceptable.
Seniors with dementia or other cognitive disorders are most likely to become victims since perpetrators see their confusion as a means to escape prosecution. Sexual intercourse is not the only form of abuse experienced; anything from unwanted touching to forcing a senior to watch a sexual act can be considered an act of abuse.
Resident On Resident Abuse
It is often assumed that sexual abuse in nursing homes occurs between caretakers and elderly residents. But it is just as common to find sexual abuse that is perpetrated by one resident on another resident. Due to the organizational structure of modern nursing homes, many cases of sexual abuse of this form go unpunished, particularly when there is some question as to whether there was consent.
Why Is This Type Of Abuse An Under-Reported Problem?
The proliferation of sexual abuse in nursing homes is not unnoticed by residents or nursing home administrators. However, because it carries with it a stigma and is usually perpetrated in a clandestine manner, bringing the subject into the harsh glare of media or even general attention can leave everyone involved reeling from the backlash. Here are just a few of the reasons that sexual abuse often remains a hidden problem at nursing home facilities:
- Victim is unable to report abuse
- Not enough evidence to prove it happened
- Victim wouldn’t be able to pursue lawsuit
- Administrator chooses not to reveal or report cases to Medicaid/Medicare for fear of losing funding
- Presence of Mediation clause requires residents to settle out of court
Statistics indicate that few of all sexual abuse cases ever result in a conviction. In one particular study that covered a five-year period, only four out of 82 sexual abuse cases were pursued as a criminal case. This means the majority of abuse cases in nursing homes are swept under the rug or otherwise dealt with in-house, often by separating the victim and perpetrator. Clearly, changes need to be made, not only in how sexual abuse is perceived in the nursing home but also how claims of abuse are handled.
National Reporting Standards
One of the major hurdles to increasing the transparency of sexual abuse crimes in nursing homes has been a lackadaisical approach to reporting. Now, nursing home mistreatment is reported through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) but sexual abuse isn’t considered as a separate category. The Administration for Community Living in Washington D.C. keeps a collection of reports from state ombudsman offices, but only those cases which are reported through that route are captured.
Fortunately, this trend of under-reporting appears to be changing. The National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS), currently under review and expected to squeak into national use by 2019, will maintain a record of reports from nursing homes and care facilities all across the country. This comprehensive database will provide legislators, administrators and the general public with qualitative data on adult abuse cases and allow them to improve programs intended to fight senior abuse on a wide scale.
Do Your Research For Infractions
Seniors deserve to live in a home that is both comfortable and safe. While senior abuse is generally acknowledged as a potential threat for those seniors who live in a nursing home environment, sexual abuse has to be an even larger threat, because it often hides beneath the fear and inability of its victims to report it. Before you decide to admit your senior loved ones into any nursing home or facility, do your research. Sites like Medicare and ProPublica allow you to search by name and location to see how many infractions a particular home has received in the past three to five years.