Legal Advocates for Elderly Sexual Abuse Victims
Elderly adults who are vulnerable to physical abuse also face a risk of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can be a complicated issue because of social mores regarding sexual contact and, as with most elder abuse, because it typically takes place behind closed doors. Many victims do not report the crime. It is also not uncommon that elderly sexual abuse victims who do come forward are not believed.
At SI Elder Law, our first reaction is that we believe allegations of sexual abuse of elderly Southern Illinois residents. We know from experience that sexual abuse of senior citizens occurs in nursing home and in the community, and we work to assist abuse victims. We move quickly to protect the elderly victim, and then to hold abusers accountable for what they have taken from the victim and their family.
Defining Sexual Abuse of Elderly Adults
Many elderly victims of sexual abuse are vulnerable because they are frail and cannot fight back, may have aphasia (loss of ability to communicate) or similar conditions that make it impossible to report sexual abuse, or may be isolated and have no one to report the assault to.
Also, it is important to understand that, as the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse says, the majority of elderly sexual abuse victims are women; however, older men have been sexually abused in both domestic and institutional settings.
Unwanted or “nonconsensual” sexual contact of any kind is sexual abuse, and is a crime. Sexual contact with a person who is incapable of consenting due to limitations that are physical, mental or chemically induced (i.e., via medication, alcohol or illicit drugs) is nonconsensual and a crime.
Sexual abuse includes nonconsensual:
– Touching (groping) of the genitals, breasts, buttocks or anus
– Sexual intercourse (rape), including anal and oral penetration (sodomy)
– Trafficking, or forcing or coercing someone into sexual contact with another against their will
So-called “hands-off” sexual abuse of the elderly includes:
– Forcing a person to view others engaged in sexual activity, including in pornography
– Voyeurism, or watching the victim disrobe for other than medical or hygiene reasons
– Forcing the victim to disrobe in front of others outside of a medical setting
– Making sexually explicit photographs of the victim without consent
The National Council on Elder Abuse (NCEA) refers to domestic elder abuse as mistreatment committed by someone with whom the elder has a special relationship (e.g., spouse, child, sibling, caregiver or another close associate).
Institutional abuse is mistreatment that occurs in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care facilities. It is usually perpetrated by someone with a legal or contractual obligation to provide some level of protection or care to the victim, such as nursing home staff. However, nursing home residents can be abused by other residents as well, and often this abuse takes the form of sexual abuse.
A form of institutional sexual abuse is known as “harmful genital practices.” This is painful or humiliating touching of the elderly individual’s genital area that is not a part of a nursing care plan. It may include such abusive acts as:
– Inserting fingers or objects into the individual’s vagina or rectum
– Applying or inserting creams, enemas, soap, etc., when not medically necessary
– Cleansing inner and outer genitalia with alcohol wipes
Recognizing the Warning Signs of Elder Sexual Abuse
Though sexual abuse is a crime of assault for which no one but the perpetrator is at fault, it is often difficult for sexual abuse victims to come forward. This is especially true among older adults, who may have more strict views of sexuality and experience shame or self-blame, or among those, as suggested above, who cannot speak out on their own behalf.
However there are potential indicators of sexual abuse that friends and family of elderly nursing home residents and other seniors should be aware of. Warning signs of elder sexual abuse include:
Physical indicators of sexual abuse:
– Bruising of the genital areas, breasts / chest, inner thighs, abdomen, outer arms, mouth
– Bite marks
– Difficulty walking or sitting
– Torn, stained or bloody underwear, bed clothes, or bedding
– Unexplained sexually transmitted disease or HIV
Behavioral indicators of sexual abuse include:
– Sudden changes in mood or temperament
– Sudden changes in sleeping habits
– Sudden changes in personal hygiene
– Sudden increases in alcohol or drug use
– Shrinking from physical contact, such as hugging
– Resisting certain kinds of care, such as bathing assistance
– Regressive behaviors (becoming withdrawn, less active or less verbal)
– Becoming skittish or fearful in the presence of certain individuals
– Trying to flee or begging to leave the nursing home or other facility
– Unusually aggressive sexual behavior
The National Council on Elder Abuse (NCEA) says an elderly abuse victim may make coded disclosures that indicate sexual contact, such as:
– “He’s my boyfriend.”
– “He loves me.”
– “I’m his favorite girl.”
An elderly sexual abuse victim may suddenly begin to talk about dating or ask about being attractive or pregnant, or about possibly having a sexually transmitted disease.
In the meantime, a potential offender may suddenly show inappropriate affection or romantic behavior toward the abuse victim.
How to Report Suspected Sexual Abuse of an Elderly Adult
Sexual abuse, up to and including rape, is a crime. Anyone who suspects that anyone, especially vulnerable senior citizen, is being sexually abused has an obligation to report it to authorities.
If you suspect a senior loved one is being sexually abused, ask them in private about bruising or other physical indicators and whether they remember how they happened. Ask whether anyone is treating them in a manner that makes them uncomfortable or is painful.
These are uncomfortable conversations to initiate, especially with a parent or grandparent. If you witness a crime, you have a duty to call police. If you see indicators that a nursing home resident or a senior citizen living in the community is in immediate danger of sexual abuse, phone 911 for emergency assistance.
Emergency medical personnel who examine any individual and suspect a crime, such as sexual assault, will report their suspicions to law enforcement.
At a nursing home or other long-term care facility, notify a manager verbally and in writing if you can identify indicators that a loved one is being sexually abused. This will put your complaint on the record, but may do little more. Some nursing home managers would rather cover up a sexual abuse scandal than deal with the fallout.
State authorities are obligated to investigate allegations of elder sexual abuse, and to assist the abuse victim. In Illinois, two Department on Aging programs assist seniors in nursing homes and in the community:
– The Illinois Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program investigates all forms of abuse in state nursing homes, and takes steps to protect seniors and correct improper situations. Find your regionalLong-Term Care Ombudsman Program at the bottom of this Department on Aging web page or phone (866) 800-1409 or (888) 206-1327 (TTY).
– Adult Protective Services investigates the abuse of adults age 60 and older (and of people age 18-59 who have disabilities). A case worker will contact the victim and help determine what steps are most appropriate to end the abuse and what services the victim requires.If necessary, Adult Protective Services may petition the court for guardianship to ensure the abuse victim’s needs are met. Phone (866) 800-1409 or (888) 206-1327 (TTY) to make a confidential report.
It is also important that you contact an elder law attorney who investigates elder sexual abuse cases involving Illinois residents in the community or in nursing homes. In addition to ensuring that an elder sexual abuse victim is protected and the perpetrator is investigated by law enforcement, an attorney can investigate the case independently of authorities and work to seek compensation for the victim’s losses related to the abuse.
How SI Elder Law Can Assist in an Elder Sexual Abuse Case
In addition to criminal law that provides for the punishment of anyone who sexually assaults another person, the state of Illinois is required under the Elder Abuse and Neglect Act to investigate complaints about all types of elder abuse and help victims obtain appropriate state and local governmental services.
But an SI Elder Law attorney can go further than state and local officials in assisting you if a loved one of yours has been sexually abused in a nursing home or at a private residence. We conduct our own investigations, which may result in information state and/or law enforcement officials do not find. Because SI Elder Law is not burdened by the caseload and bureaucracy that state workers and the police labor under, we can move faster and be more thorough.
We work diligently to not only see that a harmful situation is corrected, but to see to it that the sexual abuse victim is made right financially. Through a personal injury lawsuit, we can help a sexually abused senior citizen seek compensation for their losses, such as medical expenses, property damage or loss, and pain and suffering.
If you have reported a suspected case of sex abuse of a senior to law enforcement or the Illinois Department on Aging, or if you are concerned about a situation involving an elderly person and need legal advice, contact SI Elder Law now. A personal injury lawsuit is complex and time consuming, but must be filed within two years of the complaint of abuse or injury to avoid the Illinois statute of limitations.
We concentrate legal protection for senior citizens. SI Elder Law provides free initial consultations in cases of suspected sexual abuse of elder Southern Illinois residents.