Sexual Abuse in Residential Care/ Group Homes
In December 2018, a comatose woman who was a patient at a facility for chronically ill and disabled adults gave birth to a baby. The birth sparked concerns about sexual abuse at the facility and ultimately led to the arrest of a nurse on charges of rape. After the details of the sexual assault and impregnation of the woman became public, the Arizona facility decided to close the unit where the woman had been living.
Although the details of this story are shocking, it is not an isolated incident. The residents at long term care facilities and group homes are usually among the most vulnerable segments of our population: the sick, young, elderly, and disabled. Read more about nursing home abuse on our “Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawsuits” page. These patients often lack the physical capacity to defend themselves and the mental capacity to report the conduct to authorities. These cases are particularly egregious as the victims of sexual assault can have significant intellectual disabilities because of age, medical conditions or accidents that leave them with little to no awareness of what is happening to them or that the conduct perpetrated against them is criminal and wrong.
Who is Liable for the Abuse?
Sexual assaults can be perpetrated by health aids working in large facilities or health workers in private homes. The facility itself, its employees, or the home health care agency that is responsible for providing employees to private homes can all be held liable for sexual assault. The facilities and agencies that employ health workers are responsible for protecting their patients from harm and ensuring their safety. When a patient is sexually assaulted, the victim may bring a claim under several legal theories. The facility or company that employs health workers can be held liable for negligent hiring if it fails to conduct adequate background checks or it hires employees with criminal records. Liability can also be imposed for negligent supervision of workers, which occurs when workers are not properly managed or the facility does not implement and follow procedures for removal of a preparator once abusive activity is suspected. Finally, the facility is required to report all cases of possible abuse to law enforcement authorities.
Many elderly individuals suffering from moderate to severe dementia may lack the cognitive capacity to provide consent for sexual contact. While their physical appearance may resemble that of an adult, the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease and dementia can render their mental faculties akin to those of a child. Tragically, this vulnerability makes many nursing home residents easy targets for sexual predators, whether they be another resident, a visitor, or even a staff member.
Sexual abuse within elder care facilities often accompanies other forms of mistreatment, including emotional and physical abuse. It is imperative to seek assistance from a knowledgeable attorney in such cases. Taking swift action by involving the authorities can ensure that your elderly loved one is removed from harm's way. Acting promptly can mean the difference between ensuring a happy, healthy existence for your loved one and subjecting them to serious trauma or worse.
Understanding Elderly Sexual Abuse
Definition of Elder Sexual Abuse:
The spectrum of sexual abuse against elders encompasses various offenses. The following actions can constitute sexual abuse if perpetrated against an elder without their consent:
- Touching or groping of the genitals, breasts, buttocks, or anus
- Sexual intercourse, including anal and oral penetration (sodomy)
- Inserting objects or fingers into an elder's vagina or rectum
- Conducting "medical procedures" on an elder that are medically unnecessary, such as applying creams, enemas, or soaps to their genitalia, breasts, or buttocks
- Cleansing either internal or external genital areas with harsh chemicals, such as alcohol wipes
Understanding "Hands Off" Sexual Abuse:
Additionally, there are forms of sexual abuse known as "hands off," which do not involve physical contact but still constitute sexual abuse. These include:
- Forcing an individual to observe others engaged in sexual activities, including pornography
- Compelling a victim to undress without justification outside of medical or hygiene-related contexts solely for sexual gratification
- Coercing an elder to disrobe in front of others outside of a medical setting
- Producing sexually explicit material of the victim without their consent, such as videos or photographs
It is important to know that new laws revising the statute of limitations in New York, New Jersey, and other states now allow survivors of sexual assault to bring claims against their abusers for a specified amount of time regardless of when the assault occurred. For patients in long-term care facilities, whose abuse may not be discovered for years or even decades, the new legislation provides an avenue for redressing claims that would have otherwise been barred under previous laws.
Levy Konigsberg LLP is a nationally recognized law firm that has recovered millions of dollars for victims of sexual abuse. If you or a member of your family has been the victim of sexual assault by a health care worker in a long-term or residential care facility, please contact our lawyers for a free and confidential consultation by calling (800) 315-3806 or submit an email inquiry.
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