Nursing Home Sexual Assault and Rape Are Focus of CNN Investigation

A CNN investigative report details an “epidemic” of nursing home abuse that is occurring at facilities nationwide, including instances of sexual assault and outright rape, often involving severely disabled individuals who are unable to testify to put their assailants in jail. 

The in-depth report, “Sick, Dying and Raped in America’s Nursing Homes” outlines heart-wrenching and disturbing reports of sexual assaults, and how nursing homes, as well as state and federal regulators, have allowed predators to repeatedly stalk the halls of care facilities nationwide to find more victims.

CNN determined that there is no way to know how widespread nursing home rapes are, but its own investigation uncovered 16,000 reports of sexual abuse in long-term care facilities in the U.S. since 2000. However, that is only using data obtained by the Administration for Community Living and only involves cases where the state long-term care ombudsmen got involved. It is likely only a fraction of the actual incidents that have occurred over the last 17 years.

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From 2010 to 2015 alone, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) indicates that 226 nursing homes were cited for failing to protect residents from substantiated cases of sexual abuse, resulting in about $9 million in fines and the closure of 16 facilities.

The investigation revealed, however, that the problem is that most cases cannot be substantiated, particularly because it is rare that nursing homes and oversight agencies conduct in-depth investigations. In addition, the victims themselves often suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, have vision and hearing problems, or have histories of delusions, hallucinations and other mental health problems that makes their testimony unreliable and sometimes inconsistent.

When such claims cannot be investigated, they are considered unsubstantiated, and even nursing home employees who are investigated multiple times for sexual abuse can have spotless records and continue to have access to more elderly patients and more victims.

To make matters worse, some nursing homes cover the incidents of abuse, either because they do not want the blow to their reputation, or because they fear that if investigators come into the facility, they will find other deficiencies that could lead to fines or losing Medicare and Medicaid funding.

From just 2013 to 2016, CNN found that more than 1,000 nursing homes had been cited for failing to prevent sexual assaults and rapes, or mishandling cases of sexual abuse. Almost 100 of those facilities were cited multiple times.

Experts gave a number of tips on how such cases can be prevented or better investigated:

  • Nursing homes should provide staff members with training on nursing home sex abuse and how to spot it.
  • Nursing homes should also ensure that there is proper supervision, particularly during night shifts, which can be an issue at facilities with nursing home staffing problems.
  • Facilities and outside investigators should start from the basis of believing claims of sexual assault, instead of immediately dismissing claims from patients they may think are mentally impaired or “problem patients.”
  • Potential evidence should be preserved, meaning linens should not be washed and patients should not be bathed before being examined by law enforcement once a rape or sexual assault claim has been placed.
  • The government needs to have a reporting system in place to track unsubstantiated cases, to help more readily spot potential predators and repeat offenders who move from one facility to the next to find victims and avoid the law.

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