When a family member is placed in a nursing home, it is often because they can no longer care for themselves independently. Families trust that the people working in the facility are taking proper care of their loved ones. Although sexual abuse of elders in the nursing home is the least common type of abuse, it does happen. A 2017 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that:
- .7% of nursing home staff reported sexually abusing residents
- 9% of nursing home residents reported sexual abuse
- Sexual abuse may go underreported in nursing homes
In nursing homes, instances of sexual abuse may go unreported because residents are too scared of retaliation if they do tell someone. Residents who have mental, physical, or memory conditions may not be able to recall the experience.
At Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix, AZ, a male nurse, Nathan Sutherland, was charged with sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult when the 29-year-old woman gave birth while in an incapacitated state. The patient, whose name was not released, had been in this state since she was three years old, resulting from seizures she suffered as a child. Nobody in the facility knew she was pregnant until she went into labor.
The people who are likely to commit sexual abuse in a nursing home are:
- Other staff
- Criminals who invade
- Fellow residents
SIGNS OF NURSING HOME SEXUAL ABUSE
Not every case of sexual abuse in a nursing home can be as obvious as the one in Phoenix, where the resident gives birth as a result of the abuse. There are other signs that families and other staff can look for if they suspect a resident in a nursing facility is the victim of sexual abuse.
- Pelvic injury
- Developing a sexually transmitted disease
- Problems walking or sitting
- Torn, bloody, or stained underwear
- Irritation or pain in the anus or genitalia
- Bruising to the genitals or inner thigh area
- Irritation or pain of the anus or genitals
- Panic attacks
- Social or emotional withdrawal
- Suicide attempts
Not all symptoms indicate that sexual abuse has occurred, but if there is suspicion, it should be addressed. It is also important to remember that all, not all nursing home residents are elderly, and there is a possibility that they may suffer from mental illness, incapacitation, or reside for memory care services.
According to the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, female nursing home residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse. The reason these residents are more prone to victimization is their impaired memories and their problems with communication.
At an assisted living facility in Melbourne, Florida, 39-year-old nurse Guettie Belizare went missing during her workday for approximately two hours. She was later found in the room of a 69-year-old patient suffering from dementia. The man claimed that the woman had raped him, which was confirmed by DNA evidence. She was arrested in 2019 and charged with abuse of an elderly or disabled adult without great harm as well as lewd and lascivious molestation of an elderly or disabled adult. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
STEPS TO TAKE IF YOU SUSPECT NURSING HOME SEXUAL ABUSE
If the signs are present that make you suspect a loved one is the victim of nursing home sexual abuse, some steps should be taken to ensure their safety. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) recommends:
- Calling 911 or the local police department
- Calling Adult Protective Services (APS)
- Calling the state licensing or certification agency that handles the nursing homes inspections and complaints
- Calling the local Long-term care ombudsman program
You should report the sexual abuse to the facility’s administrators, making sure that there is a report of it on file with them. By reporting these suspicions and the abuse, you are possibly saving another resident from the same fate as your loved one. You may also help other residents who have been victim to the same treatment.
In 2014, a nurse walked in on 76-year-old George Sumo Kpingbah having sex with an 83-year-old Alzheimer’s patient at Walker Methodist Health Center in Minnesota. This was not the first time that sexual abuse complaints were filed against Kpingbah, who had previously been suspended for that event. In 2015 he was sentenced to eight years in prison and agreed to pay $15 million to the estate of the rape survivor if he was ever convicted of another criminal sexual misconduct charge.
WHY FILE CIVIL LAWSUITS FOR NURSING HOME SEXUAL ABUSE CASES
Most of the cases against the perpetrators of nursing home sexual abuse are criminal cases. There are times when the outcomes of the criminal cases do not do the victim justice. In these instances, families may be able to seek justice in the form of compensation, often finding the facility liable for the abuse their family member endured.
Civil cases like this require that the lawyer find and explain how the facility was neglectful to the patient, causing the sexual abuse. When a family member enters a long-term care facility, there is an expected level of care. When that contract is breached, it leaves the facility open to liability. It is the job of the administrators of the facility to hire staff that will care for the residents and not harm them.
Six teenagers working at the Good Samaritan Society Nursing Home during late 2008 in Albert Lea, Minnesota, were arrested for abusing the residents. Many of the victims who suffered this abuse were suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. The criminal complaint brought against the teenagers stated that they would spit in the mouths of the residents, spray them with water, and poke or grope their genitals.
The cases of the teens that were under 18 were settled in the juvenile court system. Two others, Brianna Broitzman and Ashton Larson, were charged as adults and sentenced to 180 days in jail after pleading guilty to the abuse. While they were not explicitly charged with sexual abuse, given the nature of the unwanted touching without the consent of the vulnerable parties, it fits the definition.
Broitzman and Larson were sentenced to serve 60-day sentences for each of the counts, with eligibility to petition the court after the first 60-day term. The Albert Lea Tribune reported that both girls were released after only serving 42 days of their 180-day sentence.
In cases like this, a civil lawsuit could have been brought forward by the families of the victims. The families could have filed a motion that the Good Samaritan Society Nursing Home neglected to keep these victims safe. The nursing home’s duty was to hire staff who would keep the residents safe, not humiliate them, and violate their bodies.
When bringing forth lawsuits like this, TorkLaw gathers all of the evidence needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the facility was negligent in the situation. It is possible that expenses to change facilities exist, or even mental distress from the acts committed against them, causing pain and suffering.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS IN NURSING HOME SEXUAL ABUSE CASES
For civil lawsuits being brought for cases involving sexual abuse, each state has a different ruling on the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations defines the amount of time that the lawsuit can be brought forward after the sexual abuse occurred. Some states have statutes that allow for lawsuits only a couple years after the incident, whereas others may allow for longer periods. Each statute of limitation is dependant on the state in which the crime was committed.
States include criteria that may include:
- A statute of limitations that begins the date the incident is reported
- A statute of limitations that begins the date of the last incidence of sexual abuse
- A statute of limitations that extends (X number of years) past the age of maturity
- A statute of limitations that extends (X number of years) from the date that the incident is discovered
Some states have even passed temporary orders to help victims of sexual abuse be able to report cases that may have fallen short of the statute of limitations under certain circumstances. California and New York are both examples of these types of special legislation.
TORKLAW SEEKS JUSTICE IN NURSING HOME SEXUAL ABUSE CASES
Sexual abuse that takes place in a nursing home setting is not something that our lawyers take lightly at TorkLaw. In addition to sexual abuse, we are also advocates for justice for elder abuse claims as well. Giving them the attention and respect needed in these situations, our sympathetic approach to what your family is going through helps us to seek justice for the injustices that have befallen your loved ones.
As always, TorkLaw offers our potential clients FREE and confidential case consultations. Our legal experts are available by phone at 888.845.9696, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you or your loved one have been victims of sexual abuse in a nursing home, we urge you to call our toll-free number to discuss your case with us. We take your case seriously and want nothing more than to bring justice to you and your family against those perpetrators who caused the nursing home sexual abuse.