An exclusive 2017 CNN investigation found the federal government has cited more than 1,000 nursing homes for mishandling or failing to prevent alleged cases of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse at their facilities between 2013 and 2016. Nearly 100 of those facilities had been cited multiple times during the same three years. That’s likely just the tip of the iceberg. Experts say such abuse is not only under-reported and under-investigated, but often unnoticed or ignored.
According to the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, women and men with dementia are most likely to be victims. They say resident-to-resident sexual aggression is the most common form of abuse in nursing homes, but perpetrators can also be temporary and permanent staff, family, friends, even complete strangers visiting the facility.
“If they have any sign of mental illness, dementia or Alzheimer’s, they could say, ‘I was raped by so and so’ but nobody believes them,” said Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to improving long-term health care.
The 2017 CNN investigation also found most citations dealt with cases of residents abusing other residents. But the analysis also showed accusations made about aides, nurses and other staff members tended to be far more serious, involving allegations of forced intercourse, oral sex and other forms of sexual assault.
Physical signs of abuse include bruising in genital areas, breasts and inner thighs, unexplained vaginal infections or bleeding, pain or irritation in the vaginal or anal areas, and torn, stained or bloodied underwear or linens. Also look for sudden or new difficulty walking or sitting, according to the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.
Not all abuse is visible, but there are other, possibly subtle signs as well. An abused loved one might withdraw from social activities and interactions, or develop sudden fears of the dark, increased nightmares or disturbed sleep. They could react differently to their abuser and show fear or avoidance of that person or a singular place. Panic attacks, extreme agitation and other PTSD symptoms could suddenly appear or grow worse. Some might even attempt suicide.