TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Sexual abuse is a horrific crime, no matter what age the victim is. But if you have a parent or grandparent in a nursing home, did you ever think they could be a victim?
In a WTOL 11 special investigation it's discovered that sexual abuse in nursing homes is a serious problem. WTOL 11's Tim Miller got his hands on a training program for nursing home workers that has eye-opening numbers on what's going on and what rape crisis centers want it to end.
In 2013, the Ohio Department of Health revoked the license of the Liberty Nursing Center on Ashland Avenue in Toledo. Records showed a male resident was found lying on top of a female resident on her bed. There was no sexual contact, but the state says the staff never notified the resident's doctor or responsible party. The facility was then shut down.
"They're just more vulnerable and if someone is searching for an easy target, they will fill the bill," said Deb Stoll, the director of the YWCA of Northwest Ohio's H.O.P.E. Rape Crisis Center.
She says nursing home sex abuse victims should not be forgotten.
"They still suffer the same kinds of problem any victim does. Being older doesn't mitigate that. It doesn't magically make it easier for you to bear," said Stoll.
The numbers on sexual assaults in nursing homes might surprise you. The Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center in Lexington, Kentucky and the Nursing Home Ombudsman Agency of the Bluegrass developed a training program for long term care facility staff. Their research showed:
- In one year's time, 1 in 100 complaints at nursing homes involved sexual assault.
- People with disabilities are 1 and a half to 5 times more at risk of suffering a sexual assault than members of the general population.
- And 15 out of 20 sexual assaults were committed by nursing home staff.
But that training program also cited a 2003 study that found an overwhelming number of nursing home sexual assault perpetrators were not staff, but facility residents.
"But it can be another resident that assaults someone, because they're there, because they may be physically incapacitated, because perhaps potentially they're not very acute anymore. It can be very difficult for them to even be able to articulate what happens to them," Stoll said.
WTOL discovered it's difficult to keep track of sex assaults in nursing homes. The Ohio Department of Health investigates complaints, but does not break down assaults by sexual crimes or incidents.
Fortunately, state law mandates nursing homes protect their residents from assault, including sex crimes. Employees have to immediately report suspected incidents of abuse, neglect, or exploitation to the county department of job and family services.
The Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, part of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality of Toledo, ABLE, has the authority to investigate complaints from Toledo-area nursing home residents.
"They have a right to make sure that law enforcement is informed and involved," said program director Stacey Premo. "We try to connect them to the resources and services they may need. And we try to ensure that the nursing facility is acting responsibly and doing what they're supposed to do."
If you have a loved one in a nursing home, look for signs of bruising or injuries that could tip you off to sexual abuse. And if you're helping someone find a place to go, ask for the home's plan on how they prevent it.
"Most facilities, I truly believe, want to provide good care for their residents. You should choose a facility, I would think, where you feel comfortable, where the staff is open, willing to talk," said Stoll.
Sex offenders are allowed to live in nursing homes. But state law in Ohio forces homes to have a plan to care for that resident and ensure the protection and safety of everyone else living there.
WTOL contacted several Toledo-area nursing homes to find out what policies they have in place to prevent sexual assaults. They either didn't get back to us or chose not to provide that information.
But the director of Quality Assurance from the Lutheran Homes Society - which runs four skilled nursing facilities - said they take sexual assault very seriously. Criminal background checks are run on all potential employees and there is a mandatory training program for workers on all forms of abuse, including sexual abuse.
In addition, registered sex offenders are not admitted as residents.
If you need to contact the Hope Rape Crisis Center, you can call (419) 241-7273 or toll free at (866) 557-7273. The information is confidential and free.
And be sure to look over these links to ABLE's long term care services and important information on reporting elder abuse: