Can a Nursing Home Be Held Legally Responsible if a Patient Is Sexually Assaulted?
Can a Nursing Home Be Held Legally Responsible if a Patient Is Sexually Assaulted?

As disturbing as it is to think of an elderly person in a nursing home being sexually assaulted, it happens all too often. The legal definition of sexual abuse entails any inappropriate and undesired sexual contact against someone 60 years of age and older.

Recently, several major news outlets exposed in a series of reports that more than 1,000 nursing homes were involved in this very type of action. In fact, many of the nearly 9,000 incidences of nursing home abuse discovered by the U.S. House Government Reform Committee, Special Investigations Division over a two-year period involved sexual abuse on not just women but also men.

The biggest challenge is that cases of sexual abuse among the elderly in nursing homes are both misunderstood and underreported. The primary reason is that a large percentage of those attacked are in a declined cognitive state, meaning they either forget or are confused.

Because so many victims are unable to communicate, research on this subject has faced numerous obstacles. Although the latest reports show that much of the abuse is at the hands of workers in nursing homes, this is something that is also done by family members and even other residents of the same facility.

In one study published in 2000, the Journal of Abuse stated that roughly 70.7 percent of all sexual abuse cases against the elderly occurred in nursing homes, although this was also a problem for patients being cared for in their own home. If you suspect that your loved one has become the victim of this heinous crime, pay attention to the most common warning signs. These include:

  • A change in behavior, either more withdrawn or easily agitated
  • Stained, bloody, or torn undergarments
  • Irritation, pain, or bleeding around the genital or anal area
  • New pelvic injury
  • Bruises on the inner thighs
  • New trouble sitting or walking
  • Panic attacks
  • No or dramatically reduced social interaction and/or communication
  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Unusual or inappropriate behavior between loved one and another patient (usually the perpetrator)
  • Talk or of attempted suicide

The nursing home where your loved one is placed has a legal responsibility to provide protection, which comes from careful background investigations of every employee. If someone is hired who has a history of sexual abuse, the nursing home can be held liable for negligence and abuse. It can also be held liable for any sexual abuse that happens due to poor employee supervision. In addition, if the nursing home provided inadequate security and the abuse was performed by a stranger, the nursing home is legally liable.

These are always complex cases and sometimes hard to prove, even when a rape test is performed by a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) or doctor in a hospital environment. Therefore, it is imperative that you take any signs of sexual abuse seriously and contact an attorney who specializes in this area of the law. Your attorney will guide you through the various steps involved. He or she will work to help the victim get justice and recover money for mental, psychological, and rehabilitation expenses.

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