Sexual assault of nursing home residents is a growing concern across the country. Perpetrators of rape and other forms of assault often “get away with” their crimes because of their victims’ age and any disabilities or impairments they may have. Fortunately, modern science and law enforcement techniques are becoming more effective at catching perpetrators and holding them accountable for their crimes.
Sexual Assault In Nursing Homes
Women are six times more likely than men to be victims of sexual assault. Of those who suffer an assault over the age of 65, only 30% report the assault(s). Approximately 83% reside in nursing homes or other institutional care centers. It is estimated that 80% of the perpetrators are caregivers who are entrusted with the health and welfare of the individual.
Signs of Sexual Assault
There are many signs of sexual assault that family members and caregivers should watch for. Physical symptoms include unexplained pelvic injuries, visible bruises to the genitals or thighs, and bleeding from the genitals.
In addition to physical symptoms, it is crucial to note any changes to mental or emotional health. These include sudden depression, panic attacks, agitation, social withdrawal, and signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The more severe the individual’s disability, the less likely symptoms are going to be noticed. This was the case in Arizona where a woman in a vegetative state was sexually assaulted within a nursing home facility. In that instance, the abuse was not discovered until the woman gave birth.
Pursuing Criminal Charges
When the individual notifies a family member or caregiver that a rape has occurred, law enforcement should be notified immediately. Law enforcement officers can conduct a criminal investigation and gather evidence that includes video surveillance, interviews with staff, other residents, and when known, the suspected perpetrator. In an estimated 76% of elder sexual assaults, there is at least one witness to the incident. Police officers may also be able to collect a rape kit which can be used as evidence at trial.
Long-Term Care for Sexual Assault Victims
When sexual assault is suspected, the victim should be removed from the nursing home facility as soon as possible. The individual should also receive immediate medical and psychological care. This can help protect victims from sexually transmitted diseases while helping them heal emotionally and mentally from the assault.