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Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes: An Unchecked Epidemic

Nursing home abuse and neglect can take many forms, including the familiar types of wrongdoing such as physical and emotional abuse, neglecting basic needs, and financial exploitation. While families may be generally aware of these issues when choosing an assisted care facility for their elderly loved one, few give a second thought to another more sinister and inexcusable type of abuse: sexual assault.

While the inability or unwillingness of the elderly to speak out about sexual assault makes it inherently difficult to determine the true number of sexual abuse victims in American nursing homes, a recent investigative analysis by CNN has found that the issue is more common than most would believe, and that the procedures in place that should protect victims often fail to do so.

At Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco, our Philadelphia nursing home abuse attorneys have extensive experience representing elderly victims and their loved ones after they were harmed by substandard care, negligence, and abuse at nursing homes – and we have recovered millions of dollars in compensation on their behalves. Having worked many of these cases, we understand the difficulties of identifying abuse, as well as the challenges of holding nursing home facilities and staff accountable.

According to CNN, the difficulty of identifying sexual abuse in nursing homes and assisted living facilities can be far more troublesome than recognizing the signs of other forms of abuse. Additionally, when allegations were made by residents, nursing homes, law enforcement, and even government officials often failed to thoroughly investigate and address issues.

In an analysis of statistics compiled by state and federal agencies, and interviews with leading experts, regulators, and families, CNN found some shocking results:

  • One of the greatest difficulties in identifying sexual abuse in nursing homes is that elderly residents may be unable or unwilling to properly alert staff or family members about the abuse. This is true of cases where facilities may have tried to protect victims, only to discover that residents were unable to remember events, identify the assailant, or provide critical details due to age or more serious neurological degenerative diseases. In many cases, facilities were quick to dismiss accusations.
  • In many of the cases reviewed by CNN, nursing home facilities were commonly slow to investigate allegations, either because they were reluctant to believe such allegations or because they wished to conceal them. Some also failed to identify patterns and alert residents and family members.
  • Law enforcement officers who were notified of abuse were often skeptical of claims from victims who had poor memory or jumbled allegations. Because there is a high standard in place for substantiating claims of abuse, government regulators also failed to flag allegations, including multiple allegations against a single care provider.
  • While there are numerous stories and cases of sexual abuse in nursing care facilities, there are no nationally compiled data as to how many cases are reported or even substantiated. Statistics on the state level also fall short and often vary widely from state to state. In many states across the country, sexual abuse is not distinctly categorized from other forms of abuse.
  • While federal data from the Administration for Community Living shows over 16,000 reports of nursing home sexual abuse since 2000, officials state these statistics fail to capture the full picture and record all reports and cases. Federal data also fails to highlight when nursing facilities are cited for improperly handling sexual allegations – from failures in investigation to willful attempts to conceal and hide abuse.

You can read more about the CNN investigation here.

The vulnerable state of elderly victims, the nature of claims, and the systemic failures of those in charge make it exceedingly difficult for victims to secure justice and for offenders to be held accountable criminally and civilly for their wrongdoing and for betraying the trust of those who believed they or their loved ones would be kept safe. While raising awareness about the issues may help nursing home residents and families better respond to suspicions to allegations, the procedures in place are still designed to fail.

Because sexual abuse cases are challenging, working with an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer can help ensure victims and families have the guidance and resources required to conduct independent investigations, as well as the voice needed to bring these abuses to light in court.

At Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco, our legal team is passionate about providing the bold and unwavering voice victims and families need when they bring their claims forward in the civil justice system. If you have questions about sexual abuse or any other type of abuse or neglect in a nursing home, contact us today for a free consultation.

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