Elder Sexual Assault and Abuse

Sexual abuse of an elderly person occurs when a caregiver or another person forces unwanted sexual contact or penetration with an elderly person.  Older adults are especially vulnerable to perpetrators of sexual abuse. Perpetrators target individuals who they perceive are vulnerable or easy to overpower. They also abuse elders who they think are unlikely to report the abuse or be believed.

 Elder sexual abuse can include:

  • sexual contact with an elderly person who is confused or unable to give consent
  • sexual contact or penetration without the victim’s consent
  • forced nudity
  • photographing a person in a sexual way without that person’s consent

Some elderly victims are unable to give consent due to health conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  Elderly women are much more likely to be abused than elderly men. Most reports of elder sexual abuse come from nursing homes or other care facilities. Perpetrators can be caregivers, employees, other residents, or another person visiting the facility. Elder sexual abuse also happens outside of nursing homes. Often the perpetrators are caregivers, family, spouses or friends. This type of sexual abuse may be reported less often because of the victim’s isolation from other people. 

Warning Signs

Below are some common physical and behavioral signs that an elderly person has been sexually abused. If an elder is showing these “signs” it doesn’t mean they have definitely been sexually abused.  It’s important to look for a pattern that may suggest someone is sexually abusing the person.

 

Physical signs

  • Unexplained Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) or infection
  • Increased difficulty walking or sitting for a long time
  • Bruising of the genitals or inner thighs
  • Bleeding, irritation or pain of anus or genitals
  • Pain when urinating or moving the bowels
  • Bloody, stained or tattered undergarments

 

Behavioral signs

  • Agitation, anxiety, inability to focus or abrupt change in mood
  • Withdrawing from family, friends or social situations
  • Anxiety or fears about bathing or using the restroom
  • Changes in eating habits or refusing to eat
  • Having an unusual relationship with a caregiver that seems to have sexual elements involved
  • Displaying symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Suicide attempts
  • Nightmares or other sleep problems
  • Experiencing trouble swallowing or an unusual fear of objects near the mouth
  • New fear of specific places or people
  • Refusal to discuss events with others
  • Negative view of his or her body, especially the genital area

 

Finding Help

If you suspect someone is abusing you or someone you know, there is help. If you are helping a friend or family member, read the helping an elderly survivor section of this web site to learn how to respond in ways that are healing and helpful.

Local Sexual Assault Services Programs: Many Michigan communities have local sexual assault services programs that provide free and confidential crisis support, legal advocacy, medical advocacy, counseling, groups and/or therapy. Some of these programs also operate sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs or refer to nearby SANE programs. You can search for services in your local community online with an interactive map or you can call the Michigan Sexual Assault Hotline about these options in your community. 

Additional resources: Michigan also offers additional help and services to vulnerable adults and seniors through MDHHS and the Aging and Adult Services Agency.

Reporting abuse: You can report abuse of an elderly person or vulnerable adult to the police. You can also report it to the Michigan Adult Protective Services by calling 855-444-3911. If you are a friend or family member, remember the survivor is an adult and should be part of any decision to report to the extent that she or he is able.

Reporting a health facility: You can file a complaint about a nursing home or certified health facility with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs or by calling the toll-free Complaint Hotline at 800-882-6006.