Scholars call sexual abuse “the most hidden form of elder abuse” in nursing homes. For a variety of reasons, nursing home residents are not only more prone to abuse but also less likely to report becoming a victim. This is a dangerous combination that makes it all the more important for family members who suspect sexual abuse – as well as residents who are willing to speak up – to come forward.
Becoming a victim of sexual assault at any age can change your life.
Researchers point to three primary “profiles” of nursing home residents who are the most susceptible to abuse. These are:
Part of the problem is with the nature of the nursing home itself. Nursing homes are perceived to be safe places to live that are run by people who care about their residents. While this accurately describes many Illinois nursing homes and their employees, unfortunately, for many residents, the reality is much, much different.
Studies, along with our own experience, have both shown that disabled and impaired women and men are equally susceptible to sexual abuse in nursing homes. Likewise, perpetrators of abuse can be of either sex. They can also be both staff members and other residents in the home. This makes it all the more important for residents and their family members to understand the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse – and to take action when they believe something may be wrong.
Statistics on the prevalence of sexual abuse in nursing homes are not readily available, and one reason is that many of the signs and symptoms are similar to those for other forms of nursing home negligence and abuse. This, along with other factors discussed below, causes many instances of sexual abuse to be reported as something else. However, there are several signs and symptoms that are either unique to or specifically associated with sexual abuse, and if you or your loved one experiences any of these conditions, you should seek both medical and legal help right away:
In addition, the following are strong indicators of possible sexual abuse – particularly in light of many elderly individuals’ hesitance to discuss any abuse or sex-related issues:
Along with many residents’ difficulty in distinguishing between sexual and other forms of abuse, there are a number of other reasons why sexual abuse in nursing homes is grossly underreported. Again, if you believe that you or a loved one may be a victim of sexual abuse, we urge you to contact one of our lawyers for help. In most instances, sexual abuse is not a “one-time” event, but rather an ongoing, often systemic, pattern of harmful mistreatment.
Residents of facilities that participate in the Medicare program enjoy the following federal rights:
Most of these rights also apply under state law, even for nursing homes that do not participate in the Medicare program.
Yes, you can, because human rights don’t need contractual support. If you were hit by a car, for example, you wouldn’t have to prove that you had a contract with the driver not to hit you in order to win a lawsuit against him or her – you could sue under general tort law principles, just as you can in cases of abuse and neglect in a nursing facility.
The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act defines the rights under state law that your loved one enjoys with or without a contractual arrangement with the nursing home. Federal regulations also apply if the institution participates in the Medicare program. Proving that the facility violated an applicable regulation will go a long way toward establishing their liability for compensatory damages. In cases of outrageous conduct, you might even be able to collect punitive damages against the nursing home. Of course, if there is a contract, a contract claim could be added to other claims arising from the abuse or neglect.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is the state agency responsible for enforcing the law in favor of the more than 100,000 nursing home residents residing in over 1,200 facilities in Illinois. The IDPH licenses these facilities, conducts inspections at least annually, and cooperates with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for eligibility to participate in federal payment reimbursement programs.
The IDPH maintains a Nursing Home Hotline (800-252-4343) for complaints. Upon receiving a complaint of abuse or neglect, the IDPH’s Bureau of Long Term Care may launch an investigation. Although it does not participate in lawsuits, it can sanction or even close down homes that violate the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act or federal regulations. The results of its investigation can be used as evidence in a civil lawsuit against a home or an employee.