As the population of older Americans continue to increase with leaps and bounds, issues that affect the elderly have also taken center stage in the U.S. Sadly, one of those issues is elder abuse. Elder abuse is certainly not a new phenomenon; however, a larger elderly population coupled with increased awareness has brought the issue of elder abuse to the forefront of the American consciousness. When most people think of elder abuse, they tend to focus on the threat of physical abuse or emotional neglect. The Londonderry elder law attorneys at DeBruyckere Law warn about another type of elder abuse the sad reality of elder sexual abuse.
Elder Sexual Abuse
At its core, sexual violence is a crime motivated by a desire to control a victim. Consequently, perpetrators of sexual assault often seek out victims who appear vulnerable. Most of us know this which is why we take such care to protect children from predators. What many people fail to consider, however, is that the very old make attractive victims to sexual predators as well because they are often just as vulnerable as young children.
Elder sexual abuse is defined as the initiation of physical or sexual contact with an elderly person, when that contact is non-consensual or unwanted. Often, the victim of elderly sexual abuse is an elderly person who is confused or unable to give consent. Whether or not the contact is a mere touching or a completed rape, if it is sexual in nature and non-consensual, it is considered sexual abuse. Some examples of elder sexual abuse include:
- Unwanted touching
- Sexual assault and battery
- Sexual photography
- Forced nudity
Elder Sexual Abuse Facts and Figures
Experts all agree that elder abuse occurs far more often that most people realize; however, accurate figures are very difficult to come by for several reasons. Elderly victims are often embarrassed to have been victimized and, therefore, don’t report the abuse. In addition, many elderly victims of abuse are dependent on their abusers for everything from food and shelter to medical care. Consequently, victims often fear reprisals if they report the abuse. Nevertheless, conservative estimates regarding elder sexual abuse in the U.S. indicate that:
- 70% of reported abuse occurs in nursing homes
- Only 30% of victims of elder sexual abuse report it to authorities
- The abuser is the primary caregiver 81% of the time
- Elderly women are six times more likely than men to be sexually abused
How Do I Know If My Elder Loved One Is Being Sexually Abused?
Because the victims of elder sexual abuse often remain silent, loved ones need to be extra vigilant at watching for the signs of abuse. Some common signs to look for include:
- Unexplained STDs and infections
- Bruises in genital areas, thighs, and breasts
- Unexplained vaginal bleeding
- Clothing that has been torn, stained, or covered in blood
- Increased difficulty walking or sitting
- Depression or withdrawal
- Anxiety or excessive fear around caregiver
- Agitation and abrupt change in mood
- Changes in a senior’s demeanor, such as showing fear or becoming withdrawn when a specific person is around
- Evidence of pornographic material being shown to a senior with diminished capacity
- Blood found on sheets or linens
What to Do If You Suspect Sexual Abuse of an Elderly Loved One
If you spot signs that indicate your parent might be the victim of sexual abuse, try and discuss your concerns with him/her. This might be awkward and met with resistance so stress to them that elder abuse, in any form, is not something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of and that you only want to protect them – just like they probably protected you at one point. Next, if the suspected abuse is occurring in a long-term care facility, sit down with an administrator and share your suspicions. You should also consult with an experienced elder law attorney. Elder abuse is a crime, but it can also be the basis for a civil lawsuit. Finally, you may need to consider petitioning for guardianship of your parent if you don’t already have it so that you have the authority to move him/her and/or replace a caregiver if you determine that your suspicions about the abuse were well-founded.
Contact Londonderry Elder Law Attorneys
If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact the Londonderry elder law attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling our New Hampshire office at (603) 894-4141 or our Massachusetts office (978) 969-0331 to learn more or visit our website at http://dadlawoffices.com .
While elderly sexual abuse may be more common in a nursing home setting, family members are far more likely to abuse or neglect elderly patients.
When an elderly individual can no longer safely care for himself/herself and/or make decisions, a guardian may need to be appointed to take over.
An attorney knows the law and the legal options. In addition, he/she can be your voice and your advocate when you suspect an elderly loved one is being sexually abused.