Many believe that a residential care facility is a place for themselves or their loved ones to receive good care, but this isn’t always the case. Over the years, sexual assault and abuse accusations have been coming to light in the United States, often with victims who are most defenseless, such as elderly residents. Because elders living in homes often rely completely on others, such as caregivers, it puts them in a vulnerable position for sexual predators to commit crimes.
Survivors deserve justice, and those currently living in group homes need to be aware of their risks and options. In addition, if you have a loved one in a vulnerable position, you should know the characteristics of abuse.
What is A Residential Care Facility?
A residential care facility is a form of long-term care for individuals who might need full-time or partial assistance. Several types of facilities serve this purpose, but all residential care facilities are primarily for elderly people who wish to continue their lives with assistance outside of a family home. Other names for these homes include board and care homes, assisted living facilities, residential homes, nursing homes, and continuing care retirement communities.
The decision to relocate to one of these facilities can be a personal choice or one that is decided amongst close family and loved ones. These homes often provide long-term medical services that allow for an all-in-one approach to continued living, particularly for those suffering from mental and physical disabilities. A family or individual should factor the potential of abuse into their consideration.
Sexual Abuse Prevalence in Residential Care Facilities
Sexual abuse occurs in assisted living facilities more often than the general population may think. Below is some information describing the nature and prevalence rates of these crimes. It is important to note that there is no national database for sexual crimes in long-term care facilities, so the actual number of incidences is unclear.
- In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that sexual abuse was the least reported type of abuse in residential care facilities. This could be due to the shame that often accompanies sexual assault crimes or several other reasons. The research found that 0.7% of nursing home staff members reported incidents of residents being sexually abused, and 1.9% of nursing home residents reported sexual abuse conduct or had it reported on their behalf.
- Over the last 20 years, victims have reported 20,000 sexual assault claims to the Administration for Community Living (ACL), an average of 3 senior victims a day. This figure strictly counts abuse by staff and visitors, not other residential care members. With that type of abuse included, experts expect this number to be much larger.
- CNN investigated American nursing facilities and discovered that over 1,000 homes were cited for abuse claims. This study also found that over half of those homes were cited once again for failing to investigate the claims and employing staff previously convicted of abusive sexual conduct.
- Similar to average sexual crime statistics, women are at higher risk, and thus elderly women make up a higher percentage of crimes reported. In residential care facilities, older women with mental health illnesses, such as dementia, are particularly at a higher risk of sexual abuse.
What is Sexual Abuse in Residential Facilities?
While there are many forms of abuse in care facilities, The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as “an unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats, or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.”
According to Michigan.gov, elderly sexual abuse includes “sexual contact with an elderly person who is confused or unable to give consent, sexual contact or penetration without the victim’s consent, forced nudity, or photographing a person in a sexual way without that person’s consent.”
It is important to realize that in sexual abuse instances, specifically in the case of vulnerable populations such as elderly individuals, it is never the victim’s fault. The fault lies in the hands of the perpetrators of sexual abuse and institutions that do not safeguard against them.
Sexual abuse impacts millions of victims every year and it can happen to any person, regardless of the individual’s identity. Any instance of sexual abuse, regardless of whether there is physical contact, must be addressed.
Examples of sexual abuse with contact include:
- Attempted rape
- Penetration using a penis or fingers
- Sodomy (penetration using an object)
- Inappropriate touching
- Sexual abuse of children
Examples of non-contact sexual abuse include:
- Exposing oneself in front of an elder
- Forcing an elderly person to masturbate
- Taking sexually explicit images or videos of a child (child pornography)
- Talking about sex with the intent to spark curiosity in a child (either in person or through a phone or computer)
- Trafficking a child
Reports of Sexual Abuse in Residential Care and Group Homes
As awareness grows, the elderly report sexual abuse more frequently today. Below are a few examples:
- CNN published a story titled “Sick, Dying and Raped in America’s Nursing Homes,” in which they analyze sexual crimes in facilities across the country. With no recent studies, the CNN article analyzes government data and provides evidence for a system-wide failure to protect senior citizens paying for care in long-term facilities.
- CNN also conducted an investigation entitled “Six Women,” in which they address Luis Gomez, an average nursing aide turned serial abuser. This account is particularly chilling, as Gomez transferred from nursing home to nursing home despite charges and complaints on his record.
There are numerous other horrific details of the abuse women face across the country. Although sexual abuse can happen to either a male or female, sexual abusers target males less on average. In the CNN story, a woman recounts the episodes of horror she experienced from contracting genital herpes from a male nursing assistant while sleeping in her room at a facility. Unable to be identified to this day, the man remains free of any criminal charge.
This issue remains a pressing one across the country, with abuse occurring daily. Many victims of sexual abuse are hesitant to come forward. They don’t remember the crime fully, are ashamed, are unsure if their involvement perpetuated the crime, or lack the mental capacity to understand what was happening. Sexual abuse is a reality many women face in their lives, particularly during vulnerable ages as a child or senior citizen.
Signs of Sexual Abuse in Elderly Patients
You can help victims by spotting abuse and being an advocate. The warning signs of abuse come in many forms. Physical signs of abuse include:
- Sexually transmitted diseases, infections, and other related medical conditions
- Inexplicable bruising or bleeding, particularly in the genital area
- Bloody or tattered clothing, specifically undergarments
- Trouble walking and sitting for extended periods
The signs of abuse may also present themselves emotionally or behaviorally:
- A lack of interest in day-to-day activities
- Increased anxiety with new situations, people, and even regular occurrences, such as having to use the bathroom
- Sleep disturbance
- A negative self-image
- The inability to remain engaged, or becoming agitated and easily angered
- Inexplicable mood swings
Why are Those in Long-Term Facilities at Higher Risk of Sexual Abuse?
Elderly individuals typically opt for long-term care homes to assist in their day-to-day life because they can no longer care for themselves or they would like the burden of doing so somewhat eased. The latter group puts their trust in a facility of professionals and that is often when abuse happens. Because nursing home patients are often ailing in health, they become vulnerable, easy targets in the eyes of predators.
The challenges these facilities face can provide some explanations as to why this type of abuse occurs. The first issue is the lack of databases on a federal level. Because there is no national database to track sexual crimes in residential care facilities, there is not an accurate number of home care assaults recorded. This also means that there are not adequate resources for residents, loved ones, or facilities to eliminate the abuse. Additionally, there is little to no exposure of the problem to the public.
Experts link the second issue to staffing placement. Facilities that don’t properly vet their staff, volunteers, or visitors oten house a significant number of predators. By not creating a strict process for verifying background checks and criminal records, these facilities create unsafe environments for residents.
What is the rate of Sexual Abuse in Residential Care Facilities?
To further detail a WHO report released in 2017, we have provided statistics below. It’s important to note the number of cases of abuse is not completely accurate because many forms of abuse, including physical abuse but specifically sexual abuse, go unreported. Nonetheless, the purpose of this study was to bring awareness to the fact that this is happening at alarming rates. Specialists must conduct more research, but for the most part, participants reported:
- Around 1 in 6 people 60 years and older experienced some form of abuse in community settings during the past year.
- Rates of elder abuse are high in institutions such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities, with 2 in 3 staff reporting that they have committed abuse in the past year.
- Elder abuse can lead to serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences.
- Experts predict that elder abuse will increase as countries populations’ rapidly age. The global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 900 million in 2015 to about 2 billion in 2050.
Why Are Long-Term Care Facility Residents Less Likely to Speak Out About the Abuse?
Similar to other forms of sexual assault, victims can feel a sense of shame in what has happened to them. After the abuse, victims are overwhelmed emotionally and trying to navigate the healing process. The combination of shame and the necessary healing period results in many victims not reporting the crime.
Every situation is unique; though some nursing home patients have families and a support system, many do not. Some older residents have no one to turn to or report their crime to, and that means a vast majority go unreported. If they have someone that they trust, whether a family member or social worker, the victim is more likely to speak out. From there, it is up to the facility and law enforcement to play a significant role by properly address the crime and complaints of sexual abuse, which, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Elderly Victims of Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse affects each person differently, and there is no right or wrong way to heal from the incident. The long-term effects include:
- Eating disorders
- Dissociative patterns
- Drug and alcohol problems
- Sexual problems
- Relationship problems
Between the long-term effects of sexual abuse and the often already declining physical health and mental illness of long-term care patients, there is a high risk of severe trauma.
Can You Sue Facilities Where You Were Sexually Abused?
Yes. If you or a loved one was the victim of a sexual crime while residing in a long-term care facility, then you should report allegations of sexual abuse to the proper authorities. From there, the crime should be thoroughly investigated, though it is best to contact an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer to advocate on your behalf. You may be entitled to financial compensation.
When do I Have to File a Claim by?
The statute of limitations varies from state to state, and it is best to research your state’s policies to properly report your case of sexual abuse. The time limit from initial crime to reporting can range heavily in years. Other factors also affect the time you have to report, such as policies regarding time from discovery or if the victim had reason to know that sexual abuse caused their injury. In addition, there are special provisions for minors.
As more reports of sexual crimes come to light, states continue to adjust their policies by allowing for more time in between the crime being committed and the reporting of the abuse. This policy primarily benefits children who were victims of abuse in children’s homes or foster care. However, it shows a pattern of change for all victims as we continue to move forward.
New York: New York has one of the longest reporting windows for victims in the country. Their code states that victims must report their abuse up to five years from the date of the abuse. This statute also provides that “actions for civil damages for defined sexual crimes, including sexual abuse of a minor, may be brought within five years of the acts constituting the sexual offense.” In addition , New York has extended the time limit for beginning new cases. Children who were sexually assaulted have until they’re 55 years old to file a case against their abuser or liable third party.
Florida: Florida also has a long reporting window compared to the national average. Victims must report “within seven years after the age of majority, within four years after the person leaves the dependency of the abuser, or within four years from the time of discovery, whichever occurs later.” There is no time limit for sexual battery offenses on victims under the age of 16.
California: Though California is a major state, it has one of the smallest reporting windows in the country. Victims have two years from the time of the incident to report the crime. When it comes to children’s sexual abuse crimes, there is an extended window of up to eight years from the date the individual turns eighteen, or within three years of discovering the ‘causal connection’ of the injury. In addition, California has implemented a three-year look-back window that allows victims to file from January 1, 2020, to December 31, 2022, regardless of how long ago the crime was.
What Should You Do if You Were Sexually Assaulted in a Residential Home?
The path to healing doesn’t have to be a lonely one. Older persons who choose to spend a portion or the remainder of their life in a residential care facility are entitled to an experience that is respectful and enforces safety standards for its residents. If you were the victim of a sexual crime while living at one of these facilities, you’re entitled to justice against your abuser.
We know the devastation that comes from being the victim of such crimes, and we are committed to helping you and your loved ones heal. We can help you receive the compensation you deserve for your ongoing recovery. Contact our legal team at Herman Law today for a free consultation.