Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes

by John McKiggan

I have been representing survivors of childhood sexual abuse for almost 20 years.

Typically these claims involve allegations of historical sexual abuse that happened years ago. Recently, I have been receiving more and more complaints from seniors (or their family members) who allege that they have suffered sexual abuse in nursing homes.

What is Nursing Home Sexual Abuse?

Nursing home sexual abuse is any non-consensual sexual contact with a senior living in a nursing home.

The sexual abuse may be committed by a staff member, a visitor or other residents.

How Does it Happen?

Nursing home sexual abuse often happens because of poor supervision by staff. Residents are vulnerable and easily susceptible to persons who wish to prey on them.

Some seniors may suffer from mental health conditions that make them more volatile or dangerous.

How Often Does it Happen?

Like most types of sexual abuse, victims often don’t report the abuse because they are too ashamed or afraid of their abuser.

Seniors may particularly vulnerable if they suffer from deteriorating mental conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia which may impact their credibility. Physical and mental disabilities can make it difficult for senior citizens to defend themselves from their abuser.

There are no reliable statistics to indicate how often nursing home sexual abuse occurs. However, the issue is now being reported in the media and the public is starting to become aware of the problem.

I suspect, like priest sexual abuse, the problem has always been there but it is only now that victims are having the courage to come forward or family members are becoming concerned enough to ask questions.

What to Look For

Family members can help protect their loved ones by remembering these tips:

1. Ask your family member questions and listen to what they tell you. Don’t assume family members complaints are due to Alzheimer’s, dementia or other mental health problems.

2. Check your family member every time you visit and look for unexplained bruises or other injuries.

3. Look for personality changes. Do they become withdrawn or fearful when staff members or other residents are in the room?

More Information

Nova Scotia Elder Abuse Strategy

Warning Signs and Risk Factors

Seniors Secretariat

For almost twenty years I have dedicated my practice to representing survivors of sexual abuse. As a public service I have written a resource guide for survivors of sexual abuse, The Survivor’s Guide to Abuse Claims.

The Guide answers the most frequent questions that abuse survivors ask me including what their legal options are, how the court process works, and how to get help.

You can receive a free copy of the book by contacting me through this blog, or my website at or by calling toll free in Atlantic Canada 1-877-423-2050.

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