It's probably not anything you can easily imagine: your elderly mother or father being sexually assaulted or raped while lying helpless in a nursing home by someone who is supposed to be taking care of him or her.
Unfortunately, that's the sickening reality for many -- and investigations indicate that the problem is far more widespread than many people ever believed possible.
Here are some of the reasons that the problem may be so widespread and yet seldom identified:
-- There's a mistaken perception that sexual assault and rape is about sex. Because of that assumption, many people don't see the elderly and infirm as likely targets of rape the same way that they would someone who was young and healthy. However, sexual assault is about power and control.
-- There's also a mistaken perception that only women can be the victims of this type of assault. However, elderly male victims are also plentiful. Just this year, a nursing home employee in Sandusky, Ohio, was caught performing lewd acts on a male resident that is 100-years-old.
-- Many elderly residents do complain of the assaults, only to have their complaints dismissed as hallucinations or delusions because they are suffering from various stages of dementia.
-- Other victims are unable to speak or are visually impaired, so they can't identify their attackers.
-- Some victims fear reprisals. Just like younger victims of sexual assault, they may have been threatened in order to get them to remain silent.
-- Nursing homes don't want the bad publicity. They also face problems from the assailants. If a nursing home can't prove an assault happened, the only thing they can do is fire the assailant, which leaves him or her free to abuse someone else at the next job.
-- There's no national tracking system for reported abuses and state and local systems are fragmented at best. Sexual abuse is just marked down the same as any other type of abuse, instead of having its own category.
If you have an elderly relative that has stated that he or she has been assaulted, or you see signs that an assault may have taken place (like vaginal tears, bruising or the outbreak of a venereal disease), you have a right to expect the nursing home to act. An attorney with experience in nursing home sexual abuse cases can provide more help and information.
Source: CNN Health, "Sick, Dying And Raped In America's Nursing Homes," Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken, accessed April 12, 2017