Preventing Sexual Abuse of Seniors in Nursing Homes
According to the 2016 census, Canada’s senior population (age 65+) outnumbered children for the first time since Confederation. While much public attention has been paid to the scourge of childhood abuse, it’s important to remember that Canada’s seniors are at as high of a risk of being sexually abused as the rest of the population.
The vulnerability of some seniors is aggravated by the fact that some seniors live away from their loved ones in specialized care facilities, where they are more prone to isolation and depression. With more than 5 percent of the senior population residing in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, the chances of sexual abuse going unnoticed for a period of time is unfortunately much higher than it has been I the past.
Our country’s seniors are entitled to respect and protection from something as heinous as sexual abuse. Learning to recognize the signs of senior sexual abuse, as well as how to stop it in its tracks, is important to ensuring that our country’s seniors continue to live healthy and fulfilling lives even after retirement.
Signs of Senior Sexual Abuse
Unlike children, who may not have the vocabulary or maturity to describe what is happening (or has happened) to them, seniors are often too aware that they are being taken advantage of. The shame and guilt of being a survivor of sexual abuse is something they might have been aware of for decades—meaning that once it happens to them, they will understandably feel trapped in their experience and not want to speak out against their abusers.
A lively, social individual may suddenly become withdrawn and fearful, causing great concern amongst those who know them best. As a family member or loved one, sudden and drastic changes in personalities or behaviors can be indicative that something is wrong.
Signs of sexual (or physical) abuse in senior citizens include:
- Unexplained depression, fear or paranoia;
- Discomfort or anxiety in the presence of certain people;
- Unexplained, visible burns, scratches, bruising or swelling; and
- Vague or illogical explanation for injuries.
What If I Suspect my Loved One is Being Abused?
Particularly in individuals who have been diagnosed with conditions that limit cognitive status (such as Alzheimer’s or dementia), it is important to ask questions and listen. What may come off as incoherent ramblings may actually be a cry for help, and just because a loved one is cognitively impaired does not mean that they are unaware of what is happening to them.
Likewise, certain physical and mental disabilities can make it more challenging for seniors to resist or prevent being taken advantage of. In these cases, it is important to thoroughly investigate any claim or hesitation made by your loved one, as this may be a private confession of their abuse to you knowing that they may not be able to stop it themselves.
If you trust certain staff members of a nursing home to investigate on your behalf, it may also be worth approaching them or a manager to ask for an investigation, especially if your loved one is fearful around certain residents or staff members. An internal investigation may help put an end to chronic sexual abuse in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Remember—it is always better to be safe than sorry, especially when the health and wellbeing of a loved one is involved.
Need More Information?
It can be incredibly difficult for abuse survivors to talk about what happened to them. Whether from the trauma of the incident, fear of retaliation or a sense of shame that the abuse ever occurred in the first place, the pain and anxiety following sexual abuse can create a silence that lasts a lifetime and trap survivors within their most painful memories.
Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, at any age. But remaining silent protects abusers and allows survivors to continue suffering. With 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males reporting sexual abuse before age 17, ending the cycle abuse starts with one thing—speaking up.
That’s why we’ve written Breaking the Silence: The Survivor’s Guide to Abuse Compensation Claims. We hope that by reading our resource guide, abuse survivors can learn about their legal options confidentially, within the privacy of their homes. Seeking help for yourself—and helping others—starts with holding an abuser accountable.