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Physical Elder Abuse - Q & A

Jan. 23, 2020

Q. I ran across a friend the other day and she was telling me about her neighbor, an 82 year-old grandmother and that an in-home caregiver had sexually assaulted the elder. I was shocked when I learned this since my mother, who suffers from serious dementia, lives in a nursing home and I never even entertained the possibility that she might be assaulted in this way. Is this common and what are the signs?

A. Sexual abuse of elders is more common than you might think. In direct response to your question, studies report that elderly people living in nursing homes actually face a much lower likelihood of being sexually assaulted than those who are living independently.

Q. What are the signs that an elder has been sexually abused?

A. Signs of sexual abuse may not be readily visible even to the elder’s family or close friends. If suspicions are raised, it is highly recommended that the elder immediately be taken to a physician for examination. The sooner the better since things like bruises can heal and memories can fade especially with people suffering from dementia. The signs sexual assault include, bruising around the breasts and vaginal area, and torn or bloodied undergarments. If family or friends suspect wrongdoing, they should report this immediately to the police department and have a doctor, intervene immediately. Since doctors are mandated reporters they are under an affirmative duty to report possible sexual abuse to law enforcement.

Q. How does the law define sexual elder abuse?

The law describes sexual elder abuse as any unwanted sexual contact against a person over the age of 60. These types of offenders perpetrate such crimes by emotional manipulation and sometime by force. Other then non-consensual physical contact, others forms of sexual elder abuse include, but are not limited to, showing the elder pornography or having the elder remove his/her clothes as a form of sexual exhibition.

Q. Are these types of cases difficult to prove?

Yes. Sexual assault upon elders is more likely to happen if the elder is suffering from different forms of dementia. This is when the victim is most vulnerable to a predator. Unfortunately, dementia of the victim makes criminally prosecuting these cases problematic. Since the elderly victim suffering from dementia will have difficulty recalling specific events or appear mentally unstable in recounting the events, the prosecution is often unwilling or unable to prosecute the case.

Q. How common is this kind of elder abuse?

A. This is difficult to say. However, one thing is certain, as the population of older adults in America continues to grow, so does the frequency of physical elder abuse grow.

According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), sexual abuse is one of the least studied aspects of elder abuse. According to one sponsored study, “Forensic Markers in Elder Female Sexual Abuse Cases,” the research suggests that the older the victim, the less likely the offender will be formally charged with the crime. As indicated above, perpetrators of elder abuse are less likely to be criminally charged unless the elder also exhibits signs of physical trauma, such as a bruises and vaginal bleeding. Physical evidence is almost always necessary in proving elder abuse cases where there is a moderate-to-severe level of dementia present.

Q. What Are The Penalties For Sexual Abuse Of An Elder

A. Under most states, a person may be charged with sexual assault of an elder where there is an intentional infliction of physical pain or mental suffering on the elder adult resulting from the abuse. Most elder abuse statutes also include substantial penalty-enhancers depending on the age of the victim.

In California, for example, one count (a single charged occurrence) of sexual assault without physical harm can result in a $6,000 fine and imprisonment in state prison for two, three, or four years. If the elderly victim in addition to the sexual assault suffers bodily injury, then additional state prison time will be added to the sentence depending on the age of the elder.

The facts remain that elder abuse in all shapes and forms is increasingly growing as the young become older and as our life expectancy increases.

Q. What can we do to prevent physical elder abuse?

A. Even if you come across an elder you do not personally know and is neither a family member nor friend, if you suspect physical or financial abuse, contact the police and/or Adult Protective Services immediately.

You would expect the same from others if it were your parent. Please help us and join the fight to end elder abuse. If you want to report elder abuse or dependent adult abuse in your community, contact your local County APS Office . Abuse reports may also be made to your local law enforcement agency.