The population of older Americans has increased dramatically in recent years, due in large part to the fact that the Baby Boomer generation is reaching retirement age. With seniors now accounting for such a large segment of the population, issues that concern them have taken on a heightened importance. Sadly, this includes the prevalence of elder abuse in its many forms. While we are paying more attention to abuse and neglect of the elderly, one type of elder abuse remains somewhat of a taboo subject – sexual abuse. As an Indianapolis elder law attorney at Frank & Kraft explains, senior sexual abuse happens more often than most people realize.
Sexual Abuse of the Elderly Explained
Until fairly recently, sexual assault was a crime that was rarely prosecuted and even less frequently discussed openly. Consequently, it was also a very misunderstood crime, and a crime in which the victim was commonly considered to be at fault. In part, this was because people failed to realize that perpetrators of sexual assault typically act out of a desire to control. They are nor typically motivated by sexual desire or attraction. The need to control a victim prompts perpetrators to focus on victims who appear vulnerable. This puts both our youngest, and our oldest, loved ones at risk.
The crime of elder sexual abuse has been defined as the initiation of physical or sexual contact with an elderly person, when that contact is nonconsensual or unwanted. This abuse also includes making contact with 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 nonconsensual, it is sexual abuse. Some examples of elder sexual abuse include:
- Unwanted touching
- Sexual assault and battery
- Sexual photography
- Sexual assault and battery
- Forced nudity
How Often Does Senior Sexual Abuse Occur?
Unfortunately, accurate figures relating to the prevalence of elder sexual abuse are non-existent for several reasons. One reason is that victims don’t report the abuse either because they are embarrassed to be a victim or because they fear reprisals for speaking up against a perpetrator who is also their caregiver. 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 Loved One Is a Victim?
If you cannot count on an elderly loved one to come to you and admit that he/she has been abused, how do you know that the abuse is occurring? Ultimately, you should try and confirm your suspicions with your loved one before acting on those suspicions; however, there are some signs to watch out for, such as:
- 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 Should I Do If I Suspect Elder Sexual Abuse?
If you have reason to believe that an elderly loved one has been sexually abused, the first thing you should try and do is confirm your suspicions by talking to your oved one. If the abuse occurred at a nursing home, alert the facility administrator. Finally, consult with an experienced elder law attorney about your legal options. Elder abuse can be both a criminal offense and the basis for civil litigation.
Contact an Indianapolis Elder Law Attorney
For more information, please sign up for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you are concerned that an elderly loved one might be the victim of senior sexual abuse, contact an experienced Indianapolis elder law attorney at Frank & Kraft by calling (317) 684-1100 to schedule an appointment.