30 Sep, 2022

Who Investigates Sexual Abuse in a Nursing Home?

Author Todd A. Strong
bed at nursing home with nurse and wheelchair on the background

You have multiple options for reporting sexual abuse in an Illinois nursing home. You should, however, ensure your loved one is out of danger before embarking on the reporting. This might involve getting the victim out of the facility and taking him or her to a new, reasonably safe facility.

Call 911 if you have a reason to believe that your loved one is in imminent danger and needs prompt assistance. This is especially true for recent sexual abuse or rape incidents that leave victims with severe injuries.

bed at nursing home with nurse and wheelchair on the background

If you or a family member were a victim of sexual abuse in a nursing home, you might want to know who investigates sexual abuse in a nursing home. Generally, the nursing home administrator, nursing home ombudsman, the Department of Public Health, and law enforcement officers are some parties responsible for investigating sexual abuse in a nursing home. Nursing home abuse attorneys also conduct their independent investigations on behalf of the abused resident and hold the nursing home and other third parties liable for the abuse and resulting damages. 

Unexplained genital bruising or bleeding, genital infections, and bloodied underclothing or bedding are some signs of resident sexual abuse in nursing homes. It’s important to report resident sexual abuse incidents and suspicions to the relevant authorities. A nursing home may be legally responsible for all the ensuing injuries and damages if the resident (or an attorney) can prove the nursing home acted negligently, and the negligence contributed to the resident’s sexual abuse. 

Who Investigates Sexual Abuse in a Nursing Home?

Nursing Home Administrator 

A nursing home administrator usually conducts an investigation immediately after receiving a complaint of sexual abuse in the nursing home. The investigation focuses on verifying the truthfulness of the complaint. 

The administrator starts by reviewing the details of the complaint to establish if there is a legitimate reason to believe the sexual abuse incident happened. The administrator then conducts an in-depth investigation to obtain all the evidence required to prove that sexual abuse happened and determine the offending party (or parties). 

If the initial investigation identifies a staff member as the offending party, the nursing home administrator should immediately suspend that staff member to pave the way for a comprehensive investigation. The administrator should bar that staff member from accessing the facility or staying in contact with the victim or other residents. The administrator should also have any resident accused of sexual abuse separated from other residents. 

Nursing Home Ombudsman 

A nursing home ombudsman is a public officer responsible for addressing problems residents face in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This officer is sometimes called a long-term care ombudsman. An ombudsman can receive complaints of sexual abuse from residents, conduct investigations, and recommend appropriate solutions. 

An ombudsman treats all complaints received from residents with a high level of confidentiality. That way, the ombudsman can carry out investigations, report the cases to relevant authorities, and resolve the issues without subjecting residents to unnecessary risks of staff retaliation. Besides resolving individual complaints, ombudsmen play an instrumental role in enhancing the quality of care that nursing homes provide to residents. They achieve this by regularly visiting nursing facilities and providing resident-centered recommendations.

Do not hesitate to contact your local ombudsman if you or a loved one has suffered sexual abuse in a nursing facility. Contact details of an ombudsman in your region or location are available on the National Long-term Care Ombudsman Resource Center’s website. 

The Department of Public Health 

Victims of nursing home sexual abuse or their loved ones can file their complaints with their state’s Department of Public Health. The Department looks into quality-of-care concerns, including claims of actual or possible harm to patients, substandard infection prevention measures, and medication errors. It also investigates claims of an actual or potential violation of patient rights. 

Sexually abused residents or their family members can file a complaint by phone, email, mail, or fax. The complaint should include identifying details of the resident and the accused person, a brief description of the incident, the incident date, and the name and location of the facility. It should also include the harm suffered by the resident and steps taken by the facility to address the complaint. 

All complaints received by the Department are confidential. The Department uses the identifying information to notify complainants of receiving their complaints and findings of the complaint investigation. Otherwise, residents or their loved ones can make complaints anonymously. 

Adult Protective Services (APS) 

APS is another entity that can investigate claims of sexual abuse in nursing homes. APS works closely with police officers to investigate sexual abuse allegations in nursing homes and hold the offending parties liable. Besides sexual abuse, the agency also investigates other forms of abuse like physical assault, neglect, and financial exploitation.

Contact your local APS office if you have a good reason to believe an elderly family member is a victim of sexual abuse in a nursing facility. A social worker will document your allegations and open an investigation into the issue. Check out the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) website for contact details of the local APS office in your area. 

Law Enforcement Officers 

Local police can also investigate nursing homes for allegations of sexual abuse. The local police department works closely with local APS offices. Local police officers are also helpful in cases where a resident has suffered severe injuries or died due to abuse. They can guide you on immediate steps to take in such situations. 

Law enforcement officers can also prepare a comprehensive police report after investigating the alleged sexual abuse incident. The prosecutor can examine this report to determine the criminal charges to file against the offending party or parties. The police report is also a crucial piece of evidence if the victim chooses to pursue compensation from the defendant through a civil case. 

Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys 

Nursing home abuse attorneys can also investigate sexual abuse incidents in nursing homes and gather adequate evidence to help victims and their loved ones recover maximum compensation for their resulting damages. Work closely with a Peoria nursing home abuse attorney if you or an elderly loved one has suffered sexual abuse in an Illinois nursing facility. 

The attorney will evaluate your case to determine if you have valid grounds for a nursing home abuse claim. The attorney will then help you assemble and organize the evidence required to help you recover the maximum value of your claim. 

Signs of Sexual Abuse in a Nursing Home

Elderly residents who have suffered (or are suffering) sexual abuse in nursing homes may hesitate to report these incidents to their loved ones or relevant authorities. Most elderly sexual abuse victims are deeply ashamed of their situations and prefer to stay silent.

Some fear retaliation from the perpetrators or are coerced to remain silent. Others have disabling conditions, such as dementia, which prevent them from seeking help. For these reasons, you should pay closer attention to your elderly loved one to identify signs of sexual abuse. 

Physical Signs 

Strange bruises or scars around your elderly loved one’s breasts, genitals, or inner thighs could indicate sexual abuse. A sexually abused resident may also develop unexplained sexually transmitted infections (STIs), genital bleeding or infections, or have trouble passing stool or urine. Other red flags to watch out for include trouble standing or walking, bloodied underclothing or bedding, and restraint marks on the wrists or legs. 

Psychological Signs 

If your elderly loved one starts acting uneasy or scared around specific staff members or residents, you may want to consider the likelihood of sexual abuse. Strange sadness, self-neglect, trouble sleeping, panic attacks, and social withdrawal are other psychological warning signs that require further investigation. 

Each of the above signs may stem from a completely different condition or problem your elderly loved one is facing. You cannot, however, rule out the possibility of sexual abuse. That is why you should make a complaint with the nursing home administrator or other relevant authorities to have your concerns investigated. 

If investigations reveal that your loved one was physically or sexually assaulted, you will need an assault victim lawyer to help you build a strong nursing home abuse claim. The lawyer will investigate the incident and compile evidence necessary to prove negligence and damages suffered by the victim. The lawyer will also handle settlement negotiations with the defendant’s insurer or take the matter to court if necessary. 

How to Report Sexual Abuse in an Illinois Nursing Home

You have multiple options for reporting sexual abuse in an Illinois nursing home. You should, however, ensure your loved one is out of danger before embarking on the reporting. This might involve getting the victim out of the facility and taking him or her to a new, reasonably safe facility. 

Call 911 if you have a reason to believe that your loved one is in imminent danger and needs prompt assistance. This is especially true for recent sexual abuse or rape incidents that leave victims with severe injuries. 

You can also rush the victim to the nearest hospital for treatment and psychological assistance. Try your level best to preserve proof of the sexual abuse incident. You can preserve the evidence by advising the victim not to shower, smoke, brush the teeth, change or wash clothes, or even use the restroom until a medical exam is performed. 

Note that the collection of viable forensic evidence happens within 72 hours of the sexual abuse incident. The longer you take to seek medical help and contact law enforcement officers after a sexual assault incident, the lower the chances of collecting viable forensic evidence. 

Apart from calling the police, your other option for reporting sexual abuse in an Illinois nursing home is filing a complaint with the nursing home administrator. Each nursing home has specific procedures for filing abuse complaints. Be sure to familiarize yourself with those procedures and follow them strictly. 

You can also report the sexual abuse incident to the nursing home ombudsman in your region or county. You can make a sexual abuse report by calling, mailing, or filing a complaint electronically. The ombudsman will investigate the claims and ensure justice is served. 

The Department of Public Health and Adult Protective Services (APS) are other agencies that can receive a report of sexual abuse in an Illinois nursing home. 

When Are Nursing Homes Responsible for Resident Sexual Abuse?

Nursing homes have a legal duty to provide residents with an acceptable level of care. This duty includes protecting residents from sexual abuse by creating safe environments and hiring reasonably competent employees.

 Residents who suffer sexual abuse due to a nursing home’s negligence or recklessness have a right to hold that nursing home liable for the resulting injuries, damages, or losses. The following are situations when nursing homes are liable for resident sexual abuse: 

Negligent Hiring 

Nursing homes must perform thorough background checks before bringing new staff members on board. A nursing home that hires individuals with records of abuse due to failure to perform background checks exposes residents to risks of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. Such a nursing home can be held liable for resident sexual abuse caused by negligent hiring. 

Negligent Supervision 

Residents require constant supervision to prevent incidents of sexual abuse by other residents. Staff members also require adequate supervision to keep track of their actions and remove those that attempt to prey on the residents from the facility. 

Negligent Security

Nursing homes must take reasonable measures to protect residents from potential sexual abuse and other crimes. They should understand that staff members, legal guests, other residents, and intruders could subject residents to sexual abuse and other forms of abuse.

They should ensure all areas around the nursing home, including the parking lot and footpaths, are safe. All outside doors should be strong and have functioning locks. You have the right to hold a nursing home liable if you or a loved one is sexually abused because of the facility’s negligent security.

Staff Shortage 

Staff shortage is one of the main contributing factors to nursing home abuse and neglect. Understaffed nursing homes cannot provide enough attention to each resident, increasing the risk of resident neglect and sexual abuse. 

If you or a loved one has suffered sexual abuse in an understaffed nursing home, you have a legal right to seek compensation for the injuries and losses from that facility. Familiarize yourself with the length of time you must sue someone for personal injury in Illinois to protect your right to compensation. 

About The Author

Photo of Todd A. Strong
Illinois workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyer Todd A. Strong is the founder of Strong Law Offices in Peoria, Illinois. Todd brings considerable legal knowledge, experience, and skill to the table to ensure injured victims throughout the state are treated with respect, dignity, and fairness.