Nursing Home Sexual Assault Attorneys in New Mexico
Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes
As shocking as it may seem, sexual assault is not uncommon in nursing homes – and it is often overlooked or mishandled by administrators. Federal and state agencies have cited more than 1,000 nursing homes for failing to properly investigate and report accusations of sexual abuse, as reported by CNN.
If you suspect your loved one has been a victim of sexual assault in a nursing home, call Sorey, Gilliland & Hull, LLP at (903) 458-9138 as soon as possible. We focus our practice on personal injury matters, including nursing home abuse in New Mexico. Our experienced legal team can take action to stop the abuse, and help you pursue the compensation you and your loved one deserve.
How Does Sexual Assault Occur in Nursing Homes?
Sexual abuse in nursing homes consists of non-consensual sex in any form with a resident. The abuse includes any type of sexual contact with an elderly person who is unable to provide consent. Nursing home sexual assault may involve:
- Unwanted touching
- Coerced nudity
- Taking sexually explicit pictures or videos of a resident
- Taking photos of a resident who is not fully clothed
Who Is at Risk for Nursing Home Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse can affect all residents, but perpetrators often choose their victims based on how vulnerable they are, such as:
- Women: Women have the highest risk of being sexually abused in nursing homes, as stated by the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.
- Residents with dementia: The same report also reveals that residents with dementia have a high risk of sexual abuse and are often unable to properly report their abuser.
- Residents with physical disabilities: Individuals with physical impairments are at risk as they require more physical care from staff members, particularly female residents. 68% of women with disabilities are abused and, of that same group, 30% were victims of sexual abuse, as reported by the National Center on Elder Abuse. Other studies showed this number rise as high as 53%.
Who Are the Abusers?
A sexual abuser in a nursing home can be anyone who has contact with residents. The abuser may include temporary or permanent nursing home staff, visitors to the facility, or even other residents. Some residents have dementia and other mental issues that could impact their behavior and result in resident-to-resident sexual aggression. Unfortunately, resident-to-resident sexual aggression is a common form of sexual abuse in nursing homes. Nursing home residents have the right to engage in consensual sex, but this right is dependent on both residents having the capacity to consent.
In the 1,000 cases of nursing homes cited by the federal government for mishandling or failing to prevent sexual abuse, at least 25% of the abuse was perpetrated by nurses, aides, and nursing home staff members. Only a small percentage of the cases of sexual abuse were committed by visitors or unknown assailants. Most citations involved sexual abuse committed by residents against other residents. However, the most serious allegations, including rape, digital penetration, and other forms of sexual assault, were made against caregivers and other nursing home workers.
What Are the Signs of Sexual Abuse in Nursing Home Residents?
If a nursing resident is being sexually assaulted or abused, there may be physical or emotional signs, which may include:
- Bruises on the breasts, genitals, or around the inner thighs
- Torn, stained, or bloodied underwear
- Sudden difficulty sitting or walking
- Unexplained genital infections or sexually transmitted diseases
- Vaginal or anal pain, irritation, or bleeding
- Extreme agitation
- Panic attacks or PTSD symptoms
- Withdrawal from social interactions
- Sudden, unexplained changes in behavior
- Nightmares or disturbed sleep
- Fear or avoidance of a person or place
- Fear of being left alone in the dark
What are a Nursing Home’s Obligations?
Long-term care facilities have a duty to protect their residents. They must exercise care when hiring staff members, perform background checks for a criminal record, and check sex offender registries to ensure their applicants are not disqualified from employment based on their prior actions. Nursing homes must also thoroughly investigate any allegations or suspicions of sexual assault and report them to state authorities within hours after the facility learns of the alleged incident.
These obligations and duties are outlined by a variety of laws, namely the:
- Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987: A major guideline for how nursing homes should operate and treat patients, this act requires nursing homes to respond to each resident’s medical needs, maintain patient records and reports, protect against any health hazards or harm, and hire enough staff to respond to their residents’ needs.
- Residents’ Bill of Rights: This bill grants specific rights to residents of a nursing home to maximize their safety and health, as well as ensuring they can report any complaints about their care or treatment.
- Elder Justice Act: Drafted in 2002, this Act requires nursing homes to utilize employee background check databases to review potential new-hires and screen out abusers.
- Violence Against Women: This act more broadly provides legal protection and services to women who are victims of sexual assault, including by the actions of caregivers and other residents at a nursing home.
Violations of any of these laws can be grounds for liability, especially if the case involves sexual assault.
Who Is Liable for Nursing Home Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault should be prevented in every scenario, and that should begin with the abuser. While the perpetrator of the sexual assault should be held accountable for their actions, there may be other parties who are liable, including negligent staff members, administrators, and medical professionals.
- Negligent staff: Staff members work with elderly patients every day and should be the first to notice signs of sexual abuse. However, if they are not properly trained, overworked, or show a lack of care towards residents, they may miss the obvious signs of abuse or neglect to report it. If they have knowledge of abuse and do not take immediate action to protect the victim, or knowingly allow it to occur, they can be held liable.
- Nursing home administrators: Although sexual assault and abuse are not limited to nursing home staff members, the facility may still be legally responsible when it occurs. Nursing homes have a legal duty to provide a safe environment for their residents, which includes freedom from sexual abuse. When they fail to do so, they may be held accountable in a court of law. For example, a facility can be held liable for failing to administer a background check on an abusive staff member, failing to provide proper supervision of both residents and staff, failing to immediately report abuse to the authorities, or failing to provide proper security for residents.
- Medical professionals: Medical staff, including nurses and doctors, will have regular appointments with residents as a part of their treatment plans and may come across signs of abuse, such as sudden contractions of STDs, bruising or bleeding around genitals, or changes in personality. In some cases, patients may outright state that they have been assaulted. If the medical professional does not immediately report the assault to the nursing home management and state authorities, then they can be held liable for not ensuring their patient’s safety.
If you suspect your loved one has been sexually assaulted in a nursing home, it is crucial that you speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer right away. Contact Sorey, Gilliland & Hull, LLP for an experienced nursing home sexual assault lawyer. We are dedicated advocates for injured people in New Mexico.
We can investigate the incident and work with you to establish the necessary facts to hold the nursing home responsible for what happened to your elderly loved one. Contact Sorey, Gilliland & Hull, LLP at (903) 458-9138 to get in touch with an experienced nursing home sexual assault lawyer.