Sexual abuse of residents in long-term care facilities, assisted-living centers and nursing homes is a largely hidden problem, the Kansas City Star reports. It hides behind reporting systems that fail to catalog such complaints separately from other forms of abuse that afflict the elderly and disabled. Business incentives drive facility owners to conceal abuse. Family members, friends and visitors know or suspect something has happened but don’t want to get involved, and many victims are not believed. “People don’t even think that an older person would be sexually assaulted, would be raped, would be a victim,” said Edwin Walker, a former Missouri official now at the federal Administration on Aging.
Inspection reports, regulatory notices and court documents describe many instances of sexual abuse of long-term care residents. One federal program has catalogued more than 20,000 complaints of sexual abuse at long-term care facilities over 20 years, an average of nearly three such complaints a day. That disturbing total is incomplete. It ignores cases in which one resident sexually assaults another resident. No one knows how much of this goes on. That leaves regulators, advocates and prosecutors struggling to prevent abuse and respond when it happens.