It’s never nice to think about, but sexual abuse in nursing homes is an issue that warrants serious attention, discussion, and action. Though sexual abuse may not be commonly associated with elder-care facilities, it, unfortunately, makes sense that such facilities can attract and harbor sexual predators.
With a population of vulnerable people, many of whom are living with physical or mental impairments, nursing homes are easy targets for potential abusers. Residents can be subject to sexual abuse from staff, fellow residents, family members, and even lawful and unlawful visitors.
How Big of a Problem Is Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes?
In short, many experts believe that sexual abuse in nursing homes is a growing problem and one that is not taken seriously enough. As a result, large gaps exist in the understanding of how common elder sexual abuse really is.
Most research into the subject finds one of the biggest barriers to reliable, comprehensive data on sexual abuse in nursing homes is an overall lack of reporting on such events. According to one such report, it’s estimated that only 30% of all cases of elder sexual abuse are ever reported to authorities.
Moreover, nursing home owners — many of them driven by profit — have a vested interest in keeping cases of sexual assault within their facilities under wraps. Given the financial stakes, it’s no wonder that hundreds of nursing homes have failed to adequately report and handle sexual abuse events that occur on their property.
Who Commits Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes?
Sexual abuse in nursing homes can be perpetrated by:
- Foodservice workers
- Fellow residents
Regardless of how sexual abuse in nursing homes occurs or whom it is perpetrated by, the problem is ongoing and deserves public attention and support.
Below, we have outlined some key statistics that will help you better make sense of the problem and its scope.
5 Key Statistics Regarding Nursing Home Sexual Abuse
Though there has been an increase in literature in recent years describing the extent of nursing home abuse in general, the sexual abuse of nursing home residents is still seldom examined and rarely the focus of larger, federally funded studies.
It also doesn’t help that sexual abuse is vastly underreported. Nursing home residents may fear retaliation, bringing up a taboo subject matter, or burdening others with something negative. Others, namely those suffering from mental impairments or diseases like Alzheimer’s, may simply be unable to remember what exactly happened.
As a result, it’s difficult to get an accurate picture of the full extent of the problem. Still, the sexual abuse in nursing home statistics below help shine a light on a trend that needs more advocacy, research, and funding. Until that happens, the full picture will remain elusive.
1. Over 20,000 Reports of Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes Have Been Filed Since the Year 2000
A branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Administration for Community Living (ACL) supports the needs of the aging and disability populations. The goal of the organization is to improve access to health care and long-term services.
Over the course of the past 20 years, ACL has received more than 20,000 complaints of sexual abuse in nursing homes. This figure, however, does not include the number of complaints that involve fellow residents. Additionally, it’s important to remember that sexual abuse is underreported. The figure is already high enough, but the real number is likely much, much higher.
2. Over 1,000 Nursing Homes Have Been Cited for Mishandling Sexual Abuse Violations
In an investigation that examined nursing home inspection reports filed between 2013 and 2016, CNN found over 1,000 nursing homes were cited by the federal government for sexual abuse allegations. Often, these facilities are cited for mismanaging or failing to prevent or report allegations of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual assault in their facilities.
When one considers that there are around 15,000 nursing homes in the United States, the fact that 1,000 of them have been cited for failing to report sexual abuse violations is pretty shocking. As a result, prospective residents have a 6.7% chance of being at a facility where sexual abuse has taken place and has not been reported.
According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, around 100 of the facilities that were cited had multiple violations during that 4-year period.
3. Less Than 56% of Perpetrators Are Ever Criminally Convicted
In a study that examined 488 cases of elder sexual abuse, 43 instances involved the sexual abuse of an elder living in a nursing home. Of those, only 24 perpetrators were arrested and criminally convicted. Even worse? Many of the perpetrators who were caught escaped jail time altogether.
In total, the study found that only 6 of the 24 convicted sexual predators were handed a prison sentence. Most of the convicted perpetrators received fines but managed to avoid jail time.
4. 60% of Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Victims Suffer From Dementia
One of the most painful reasons why sexual abuse in nursing home facilities is underreported is because more than half of the victims of sexual assault suffer from some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Victims suffering from dementia may be unable to provide a verbal or written account of unwanted sexual contact, which also, sadly, contributes to the low conviction rate among perpetrators of sexual-abuse crimes in nursing homes.
5. Nearly 94% of All Nursing Home Sexual Assault Victims Are Female
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that a majority of sexual assault victims are women. After all, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, 1 in 5 women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape. Comparatively, 1 in 38 men has experienced sexual assault.
In a comprehensive examination of elder sexual abuse records funded by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), 93.5% of all victims were women, and 6.5% were male. Regardless of gender, 34.3% of all nursing home sexual abuse victims were 80-years-old or older.
Knowing the Signs of Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes
What is so striking about the statistics concerning sexual abuse in nursing homes is the fact that they are so alarmingly high and that, at the same time, they are vastly underreported. The real figures are likely to be far worse.
Non-profit organizations, advocates, and the federal government have taken some steps to bring nursing home sexual abuse to the public eye, but there are other ways that everyday people can help.
Perhaps one of the first things to do is learn the signs of elder sexual abuse.
Signs of elder sexual abuse can manifest both physically or mentally, and include (but are not limited to):
- Pelvic injury
- Trouble walking and/or sitting
- Development of a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Bruises and/or cuts near the genitals or inner thighs
- Indications of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Suicide attempts
- Panic attacks
- Withdrawing from social engagement
- Sudden, inexplicable changes in emotion
If you believe you have spotted signs of elder sexual abuse, it’s important to take action as soon as possible to both stop more potential abuse from happening and to get immediate help for the victim.
Family members and/or loved ones of the sexual abuse victim should take the following steps:
- Call 911
- Call and report the incident to Adult Protective Services (APS)
- Report the incident to the nursing home administrators, so that the event is logged and a record exists
Only by acting on incidents of sexual abuse can the trend be addressed and, ultimately, reversed.