Sexual assault of nursing home residents in unthinkable to most people, yet it happens with much greater frequency than most would ever imagine. A recent investigation by KMOV television in St. Louis found close to 100 registered sex offenders living as residents in Missouri and Illinois nursing homes. Four employees of local nursing homes were also registered as sex offenders. Despite the obvious concern family members would have about their loved ones being in such close proximity to registered sex offenders or even being taken care of by a registered sex offender, there is no law that requires the nursing home facility to inform residents or their family members that sex offenders live or work at the facility. This creates a shroud of secrecy that is all to common in the nursing home industry.
How Does The Nursing Home Environment Contribute to the Problem of Sexual Assault?
Most nursing homes are for-profit facilities that try to keep their expenses as low as possible to maximize their profit. While I have no problem with nursing homes making a profit, I have multiple concerns with how they increase their profits and the secrecy that invades the administration of a nursing home. Far too often problems in nursing homes are “swept under the rug” with the hope that they will disappear. If a nursing home becomes aware that a resident or employee is a sexual predator they will do everything they can to keep that information from becoming public so the public, residents or families of residents don’t find out about it. When family members find out, they start asking questions and demanding answers. Sometimes those answers mean taking action which often means spending money nursing homes don’t want to spend, so to avoid that, they keep everything quiet. This shroud of secrecy creates an environment where bad actors can operate without too much fear of public embarrassment. This often works until something happens that makes headlines.
Why Are Nursing Home Residents Vulnerable to Sexual Assault?
To those who are inclined to sexually assault others, the choice of a victim is important. The overriding concern is to not get caught. So perpetrators who choose to assault elderly nursing home residents do so for the following reasons:
- They are easy targets because they generally are unable to fight back
- They are less likely to report the assault due to shame or physical or mental infirmities that prevent them from being able to report
- Even if they do report the assault, they are less likely to be believed because in many cases they suffer from dementia or hallucinations
- They may fear being isolated from friends and family if they report the abuse
- They may fear retribution by nursing home employees if they report the abuse
One of the saddest concerns elderly residents who have been sexually assaulted have is the fear of revenge by the nursing home employees and administrative staff if they report the abuse. Why would nursing home employees seek revenge when a sexual assault is reported? Believe it or not, it comes down to money. Staff members are concerned that if word gets out that a resident was sexually assaulted in their facility, the facility may be sued or they may lose their jobs. Nursing homes are required to meet the needs of the residents and that includes providing a safe environment for them to live. I simply can’t imaging what kind of individual puts the financial welfare of a business above keeping elderly women safe from sexual assault.
What are the Signs that a Nursing Home Resident has been Sexually Assaulted?
As already mentioned, many nursing home residents who have suffered sexual abuse can’t or won’t complain about it. If you are a family member are you have concerns about your loved one, there are a few signs you can look for to determine if your loved one has been a victim of sexual assault in a nursing home:
- Is the resident much quieter than normal?
- Does the resident exhibit signs of depression when she had not done so before?
- Does she withdraw or become fearful when a certain employee enters the room?
- Is there bruising on her breasts, in the genital area or on her wrists?
- Does she talk of suicide or wanting to die?
What to do if You Suspect Your Loved One Has Been a Victim of Sexual Assault at a Nursing Home
Get them to a safe place. If you believe your loved one has been a victim of sexual abuse or assault at a Missouri nursing home the most important thing to do is get them to a safe place right away. Don’t be concerned about hurting people’s feelings and certainly don’t believe it when the nursing home tells you that they have everything under control. It is not unusual for nursing home staff members to try and convince you that your mother is simply making things up and that you should not send her to the hospital. Well, don’t listen to them. After your loved one is safe, get her to a hospital where she can be examined and cared for by a physician. As difficult as it may be, be sure and have her examined for sexual assault.
Call the police. If your loved one has been sexually abused or sexually assaulted by an employee of the nursing home where she lives or by another resident, don’t ever forget that sexual assault is a crime. This is a criminal matter that must be handled by the police as soon as possible. In my experience handling rapes and sexual assaults against nursing home residents, nursing homes will try to convince family members to let them handle the matter internally or to conduct an internal investigation to determine if the assault even happened. In cases I have handled, the internal investigation was really about destroying evidence and delaying family members from contacting the authorities.
Call an attorney who handles nursing home abuse and neglect cases. Attorneys who have been involved in representing individuals who have been sexually assaulted at nursing homes will be a valuable resource for those currently experiencing this horrific event. The nursing home industry can be a secretive industry and having a lawyer on your side who has experience with this industry and knows what questions to ask and what documents to obtain will help you take the first steps toward justice.
Call the Missouri Elder Abuse Hotline at (800) 392-0210. The Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services has an elder abuse hotline that is designed to help residents and family members whose loved ones have suffered abuse or neglect at a Missouri nursing home. When a call is received at the hotline, the Department of Health & Senior Services is obligated to investigate the complaint. Their investigators don’t make determinations on negligence (that is something your lawyer will do through a lawsuit) but they do make determinations on whether the facility failed to follow various regulatory rules set in place by the Missouri legislature. The Department can also issue fines and in very serious cases impose serious penalties that can affect the nursing home’s income.
If you have a loved one who you believe has been sexually abused or physically assaulted call the Terry Law Firm to talk with an experienced lawyer. You can reach our office at (314) 878-9797.