The unthinkable is happening at facilities throughout the United States: Vulnerable seniors are being raped and sexually abused by the very people paid to care for them. It’s impossible to know just how many victims are out there. But through an exclusive analysis of state and federal data and interviews with experts, regulators and the families of victims, CNN has found that this little-discussed issue is more widespread than anyone would imagine.
CNN FOUND MORE THAN 1,000 NURSING HOMES HAVE BEEN CITED FOR MISHANDLING SUSPECTED CASES OF SEX ABUSE.
In cases reviewed by CNN, victims and their families were failed at every stage. Nursing homes were slow to investigate and report allegations because of a reluctance to believe the accusations — or a desire to hide them. The reports show that 226 nursing homes have been cited for failing to protect residents from instances in which sexual abuse was substantiated between 2010 and 2015. Of these cases, around 60% resulted in fines, which totaled more than $9 million — though only 16 facilities were permanently cut off from Medicare and Medicaid funding. (Because the federal government only regulates nursing homes, this analysis did not include assisted living facilities.) But these statistics only tell a small part of the story because they fail to capture the many instances in which nursing homes have been cited for mishandling allegations of sexual abuse in other ways — ranging from botched investigations to cover-ups. Police viewed the claims as unlikely at the outset, dismissing potential victims because of failing memories or jumbled allegations. And because of the high bar set for substantiating abuse, state regulators failed to flag patterns of repeated allegations against a single caregiver. It’s these systemic failures that make it especially hard for victims to get justice — and even easier for perpetrators to get away with their crimes. Using inspection reports filed between 2013 and 2016 and a similar sex-related keyword search, CNN conducted its own detailed analysis.
Click here for the full investigative report.
Elder Abuse and Family Violence
It’s not just in nursing homes where senior citizens are abused. Elder abuse tends to take place where the senior lives: most often in the home where abusers are often adult children, other family members such as grandchildren, or spouses/partners of elders. Several categories of domestic violence against the elderly have been identified:
“Domestic violence grown old” is when domestic violence started earlier in life and persists into old age.
“Late onset domestic violence” begins in old age. There may have been a strained relationship or emotional abuse earlier that got worse as the partners aged. When abuse begins or is exacerbated in old age, it is likely to be linked to:
- Changing roles of family members
- Sexual changes
Older people who enter into abusive relationships late in life.
Abuse of elders takes many different forms, some involving intimidation or threats against the elderly, some involving neglect, and others involving financial trickery. The most common are defined here. However, elder abuse is often not as readily identified as abuse by other family members and workers. At first, you might not recognize or take seriously signs of elder abuse. They may appear to be symptoms of dementia or signs of the elderly person’s frailty—or caregivers may explain them to you that way. In fact, many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse do overlap with symptoms of mental deterioration, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss them on the caregiver’s say-so. The following are warning signs of some kind of elder abuse:
- Frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and the elderly person
- Changes in personality or behavior in the elder