The frail elderly are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, so we have to do our part to protect them. Unfortunately, nobody ever thinks the unthinkable could happen to their loved ones.
Until it does.
Recently, a male staff member at the Brookdale Senior Living Facility in Smithfield, North Carolina was arrested after the reported sexual assault of a 79-year-old disabled female resident there. The accused, Joseph Ngigi Kariuki, has been charged with second-degree forcible rape. Click here for the WRAL story.
As horrific as these stories are, they are far from isolated. We must do what we can for our aging loved ones to protect them from harm, especially since only 30% of victims report sexual abuse to the authorities, and the abuser is the primary caregiver 81% of the time. Elderly women are six times more likely to be sexually abused than elderly men. In this blog, we will guide you through the signs of elderly sexual abuse and how to proceed with getting help if you suspect abuse.
Recognize the Warning Signs of Elderly Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse includes inappropriate physical contact, groping, intercourse, or any other sexual activity with a patient who does not consent or is unable to consent, is threatened, or is physically forced. Many of the signs given for physical abuse also apply here. In addition, look for:
- Torn, bloody, or missing underwear or undergarments
- Pelvic injury
- Trouble sitting or walking
- Any bruising, bleeding, irritation, or discomfort in the genital area
- Unexplained Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) and infections
- Social or emotional withdrawal
- Anxiety or signs of fear around their caregiver
- Changes in mood, agitation
- Sudden weight loss
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Suicide attempts
In cases where the person has Alzheimer’s or is non-verbal, it can be significantly more challenging to see the symptoms of sexual abuse. If this is the case with your loved one, you will need to monitor him or her more closely for indicators. Look for the warning signs in the list above, but also monitor them for changes in behavior, lapses in hygiene, or financial changes. As an added precaution, it may be helpful to keep an eye on other residents in the facility and gauge their wellbeing. To read more about other precautions to take if your loved one has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home, click here.
Preventing Nursing Home Sexual Abuse
There’s no perfect way to prevent sexual abuse in nursing homes. However, knowledge and awareness are the first defense.
The fact of the matter is that sometimes, Medicare may choose to put your aging loved one in a home nearby, leaving you with no choice about where to put them. However, if you do have a choice, thoroughly research the nursing facility. Google the name of the nursing home and add terms like “reviews,” “ratings,” “abuse,” etc. You may also find reviews of the facility on the facility’s Facebook page. Be sure to visit Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website, which provides the results of inspections and investigations into every nursing home in the United States that accepts Medicare payments. The North Carolina Division of Health Service Regulation website contains links to NC nursing homes’ penalties, star ratings, inspections, and violations.
Many nursing homes make staffing decisions at the corporate level that can translate to negligence, lack of resources, high turnovers, and poor hiring decisions at the facility level. You may uncover areas where the facility is lacking with a little digging.
If you have a loved one in a nursing home, call them regularly, and if you can, visit them in person regularly as well. Pay attention to their physical and mental wellbeing, their caregiver, the staff, and other residents at the facility.
What to Do If You Suspect Sexual Abuse at a Nursing Home
If your loved one says they are being abused, BELIEVE THEM. Let them know that you are there for them, no matter what happened. This may seem like a given, but when confronted with such a heinous situation, some people’s initial shocked reaction may translate into denial or disbelief. The earlier you intervene, the better. The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care wrote this brief on what you need to know about the issue.
Your next steps could look like the following:
- If it’s an emergency, remove them from the situation immediately and call 911.
- Gather evidence and record everything. Without hard evidence, it can become more difficult to prove wrongdoing on the nursing home’s part. If appropriate, and as soon as you can, take pictures. Make note of the circumstances that make you suspect wrongdoing, write down your observations, and have a paper trail of any complaints you send to the nursing home.
- Speak up. Contact Adult Protective Services. You do not need proof to do this. You can also contact the North Carolina ombudsman for long-term care. Contact the Division of Health Service Regulation at 800-624-3004 and your county’s Division of Social Services at once.
- Contact a nursing home lawyer ASAP. A lawyer who is dedicated to the practice of nursing home abuse will likely be most familiar with these kinds of cases. Much like you would need to see a specialist doctor for certain diseases, you also should consider seeking a lawyer whose experience is catered to elderly abuse. They are likely more familiar with the state laws and legal procedures that pertain to nursing home abuse, and they will have the necessary experience to take you through the process.
Nursing Home Abuse Cases: The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Law
In the U.S., there are two separate judicial courts: civil and criminal. In nursing home sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is charged and tried through the criminal court system, and the victim can sue the individual or the company that wronged them for compensation.
The criminal process is what you see on Law & Order. That is, a suspect commits a crime, they are arrested and charged with the crime, and they are held in jail under bond. They then go to trial in front of a jury, and they are either convicted (found guilty) or acquitted (found not guilty). In criminal trials, the perpetrator is presumed innocent until they are proven guilty. If they are found guilty by a jury of their peers, they are sentenced to prison.
In the Brookdale Smithfield case we mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the victim reported the sexual assault to the police, and the police came to arrest the suspect. He was then charged with second degree forcible rape according to NC criminal statutes.
The civil process is a separate but related process. The civil process deals with the damages the plaintiff sustained, and how much money should be recovered from the liable party. In civil cases, the court will likely examine the duty of care the nursing home facility owed to the harmed party.
This is what the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin can help with. We are here to help you through a difficult, emotional situation. We have seen the difficult issues that plague nursing home facilities in the state, and we want to be there for you and your loved ones. We can help try to prove that there was negligence on the part of the individual or the facility, and we can help you sue them for the amount of money it would take to cover the damages you or your loved one sustained.
Civil cases can either be “settled” before it goes to trial, or the case can go to trial in front of a judge and jury. If the case goes to trial, the judge/jury can potentially decide to award even more money to “punish” the liable party. In this case, proving negligence becomes a matter of legal strategy. Our NC nursing home attorneys can help position you to try to recover as much as you can from the liable party.
The victim of the Brookdale Smithfield case may choose to sue both the individual and the corporation that owns and operates Brookdale Senior Living for the damages she incurred. If you would like to learn more about why you should hire a nursing home lawyer like us, please click here.
Contact a North Carolina Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we are proud to have nursing home abuse lawyers who know the ins and outs of nursing home abuse cases and have helped improve the lives of the frail elderly in North Carolina. Our nursing home abuse attorneys are hard-working advocates for the aging population, and will work hard to try to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. To learn more about our nursing home practice, please click here.
Please do not wait to contact us if you suspect nursing home abuse at your loved one’s assisted living or nursing home facility. Time is of the essence when it comes to bringing a potential lawsuit against the liable parties. Your initial case evaluation with us is free. Call us at 1-866-900-7078, or contact us here.