Many people are surprised to hear that sexual assault occurs in nursing homes, but about 10% of nursing home abuse cases involve sexual assault. Nursing home residents are often easy prey for sexual abuse perpetrators, since many residents are weak, sedentary, and/or disabled. Conditions like dementia make it difficult for residents to report assault, and disabled residents are at a higher risk of suffering physical or sexual abuse.
Perpetrators of sexual assault may be caregivers, or they may be other nursing home residents. Instances of sexual assault often occur in nursing homes or assisted living facilities where there are not enough staff to monitor resident interactions and detect signs of abuse. Or, alternately, a staff member may notice a warning sign of sexual assault but feel uncertain or uncomfortable about reporting it to the manager. Nursing home staff may also lack the proper training to recognize signs of assault, or they may be overworked and fail to notice clear signs simply because they lack the energy to be alert. However, none of these are adequate excuses for failing to prevent sexual assault: nursing homes should do all in their power to protect the legal rights and freedoms of their residents.
Anyone who suspects abuse of a resident should contact a Georgia nursing home sexual assault lawyer right away.
Unlike with physical assault, there may not be any visible outward signs of sexual assault, which means sexual abuse can be more difficult to detect than physical abuse. While physical signs like bruises sometimes accompany sexual assault, signs of sexual assault more often manifest in a changed mental state and emotional distance or vulnerability.
A victim of sexual assault may become withdrawn and emotionally distant from those around them. They may refuse to speak or become uncharacteristically silent, even around their loved ones. They may undergo mood swings or sudden emotional outbursts. Other signs include fear, a constant sense of anxiety, anger, difficulty focusing or concentrating, depression, and disrupted relationships. Often, a victim of sexual assault may feel guilty or negative about themselves, even though the incident was not their fault.
Signs of sexual assault vary from person to person. Some victims will show immediate signs of sexual abuse, while others may not exhibit any signs until later. Additionally, some people may experience only one or two of these reactions, while others may experience more.
There are several steps nursing homes can take to minimize the risk of sexual assault occurring in their facility. These include screening and educating employees, monitoring residents, and responding quickly to any warning signs.
To prevent sexual assault, nursing homes should screen all employees thoroughly before hiring them as nursing home caregivers. When hiring staff, nursing home managers should be selective and interview candidates carefully to determine whether or not they will treat residents respectfully and respond appropriately if they notice signs of sexual assault. Nursing homes should never hire employees with a criminal history, and should always check references and work histories for any employees they hire.
Nursing homes should also maintain a sufficient number of staff at all times. More staff members means more monitoring, an increased likelihood of recognizing signs of sexual assault and intervening quickly, and a greater support network.
Additionally, nursing homes should educate staff to respond appropriately in instances of sexual assault, and impress upon them the importance of reporting sexual abuse immediately. Supervisors should also maintain an active presence in all areas of the nursing home.
Nursing homes are legally responsible for ensuring residents’ rights to dignity, respect, and freedom. This includes the right to be treated with consideration, respect, and dignity, and the right to be free from both mental and physical abuse. Specifically, this means nursing homes have a legal duty to protect residents from violations like sexual assault; and a nursing home which fails to prevent sexual assault may be held responsible for the incident.
This is especially true if the nursing home failed to act on warning signs of sexual abuse, failed to properly screen employees, or neglected other precautions like hiring enough staff members, providing sufficient monitoring of residents and caregivers, and educating staff on how to detect and respond to sexual assault.
If a nursing home or assisted living facility is found responsible for sexual assault, then that facility is liable for the consequences, and as such, it is up to the nursing home to compensate the victim for the violation of his or her rights. This means paying the victim for emotional, mental, and physical trauma, pain, and suffering.
If you suspect your loved one has been a victim of sexual assault, you should speak to your loved immediately if possible. In a sensitive, understanding manner, try to determine if your suspicions are correct. When speaking to a victim of sexual assault, listen and accept what they say unconditionally, without judgement and without unnecessary questions that might make the victim feel they are to blame for what happened. Remind your loved one that the incident was not their fault and they are not guilty. Above all, be patient, and understand that many victims of sexual assault may not want to talk about it.
If you still suspect sexual assault after talking with your loved one, go to the nursing home manager and tell them your concern. You will be most successful if you are polite but firm. Hopefully, the manager will listen to your concerns and take immediate action to protect your loved one.
If your loved one has been a victim, you may also wish to contact a Georgia nursing home sexual assault lawyer for a consultation, so you can determine how to represent your loved one’s best interests and ensure they receive compensation for their suffering.