As abhorrent as it is, sexual abuse in nursing homes is not uncommon and in 2019, a woman in a vegetative state gave birth at an Arizona nursing facility.
The elderly and disabled are some of the most vulnerable and this leaves them at risk of many different kinds of abuse, including sexual abuse.
With patients often unable to speak for themselves and a lack of effective reporting, it can be difficult to determine the extent of nursing home abuse. This article explains exactly what constitutes sexual abuse, how to recognize the signs, and what can you do to pursue justice.
Any non-consensual sexual act is considered abuse. Sexual abuse can take many forms, including:
Sexual abuse is undeniably upsetting, but it can be difficult to recognize.
Your elderly loved one may not be able to identify their attacker or mentally understand that they are being abused. Shame can also keep victims silent and perpetrators often pick elderly patients for those very reasons.
Sexual abuse can leave behind both physical and psychological evidence. Nursing homes may not always recognize and report these signs, so family members need to be aware of them too.
Signs of sexual abuse in nursing home patients include:
Female patients and those with dementia are the most likely to experience sexual abuse. Women are typically considered weaker than men, and patients with mental impairment like dementia are less able to identify their abusers.
The nursing facility can also play a role in the risk of abuse and you are more likely to be the victim of abuse at a nursing facility that is:
Additionally, some nursing homes have policies in place to protect the facility over the patients.
Nursing home residents are most likely to suffer abuse from:
If you suspect that your loved one has experienced sexual abuse, the immediate goal is to prevent any further harm. You should contact the:
You also have the right to inform the Arizona Adult Protective Services (APS) program and the Arizona Department of Health Services. Both APS and the licensing body should then conduct an investigation of the incident.
If your loved one has experienced sexual abuse in an Arizona nursing home, you can pursue a case against that facility.
Once you have found a lawyer, they will help you navigate the process of filing a case against the nursing home.
Most nursing home abuse cases settle outside of court, which means no jury trial. The process of settling is usually faster than a jury trial.
Before reaching a settlement, the case will involve:
If your case does goes to court, mediation will not determine the value of any settlement.
Instead, a judge and jury will reach a verdict. The trial process can take much longer than settling outside of court because it can involve multiple court appearances and an appeal by the defendant.
A recent sexual abuse case in Michigan resulted in a $240,000 verdict. A woman in a nursing home was tied down and sexually assaulted. Her husband, living in the same nursing home, filed the lawsuit.
The verdict of a criminal trial may require the parties responsible to pay restitution, a form of compensation, to the victim.
Learning a loved one has been the victim of sexual abuse is difficult, and you will want answers to many questions. Here are some of the most common:
The elderly live in nursing homes because they need help with the basic activities of day-to-day life. It seems inconceivable that people would abuse someone so vulnerable , but sexual abuse is a very real problem in nursing homes.
Poor facility management, understaffing, and inadequate screening processes for hiring employees can create opportunity for sexual abuse to take place.
Additionally, vulnerability attracts the perpetrators of abuse. The elderly are often physically or mentally unable to defend themselves or even speak out against their abusers.
The family members of nursing home patients who suffer abuse often feel guilty. It is not your fault. Going forward, you will likely want to know how you can protect your loved one from further abuse.
If your loved one is staying in the same facility, ask the administration what changes it has made to its policies to prevent incidents like this from happening again.
If you are considering selecting another facility, ask what policies each potential nursing home has in place to prevent and investigate abuse.
Nothing can undo sexual abuse, but it can be prevented from happening again. If the perpetrator is another resident, ask what the facility is doing to ensure that resident cannot harm your loved one or anyone else in the facility.
If the perpetrator is a staff member or visitor, it is possible authorities will press criminal charges. It is your right to know that the facility has done its duty in reporting sexual abuse to the proper authorities. Likewise, if the perpetrator is unknown, the facility and outside authorities need to conduct a thorough investigation to determine who is responsible.
If you and your family have never gone through the legal system, it can seem intimidating. Your lawyer will guide you through the entire process, from the initial investigation to either settlement or a trial verdict.
If you discovered evidence of your family member’s abuse, you may be called upon to give a deposition during the pre-trial investigation. Your testimony can help your lawyer to build a strong case against the nursing home and individual responsible for the abuse.
If the case does not settle outside of court, it is possible you will need to give testimony during the trial. Your lawyer will prepare you for both deposition and testimony, if either is required.
It is possible you will see your loved one’s abuser during the pre-trial and trial proceedings, which can be very upsetting. Your lawyer will warn you if this is going to happen.
The case will be closed when it settles outside of court or when a jury reaches a verdict in a court case.
The amounts of a nursing home abuse case settlement can vary widely. The final amount is determined by:
If the case settles outside of court, the plaintiff (the victim) and the defendant (the nursing home) will agree on the settlement value.
When a case goes to trial and reaches a verdict, the judge and jury will determine how much compensation the plaintiff is owed.
Wrongful death cases are typically awarded the highest amount, but the ultimate outcome will come down to the individual details of a case.
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