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The size and structure of aging Americans is changing.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation will experience considerable growth in its older population as baby boomers continue to enter their golden years.  This growth in elderly individuals is increasing the demand and need for nursing and elderly care facilities.

Recently CNN published a report revealing widespread sexual abuse and assault in nursing homes.  The multi-part investigation revealed disturbing cases of rape and sexual abuse by nursing assistants and found that more than 1,000 nursing homes had been cited for mishandling suspected cases of sexual abuse.

In cases reviewed by CNN, victims and their families were failed at every stage.  Nursing homes were slow to investigate and report allegations because of a reluctance to believe the accusations or a desire to hide them.  Police viewed the claims as unlikely at the outset, dismissing potential victims because of failing memories or jumbled allegations.  Because of the high bar set for substantiating abuse, state regulators failed to flag patterns of repeated allegations against a single caregiver.

Some accounts of alleged sexual abuse come from civil and criminal court documents filed against nursing homes, assisted living facilities and individuals who work there.  Other incidents are buried in detailed reports filed by state health investigators. Despite the litany of abuses detailed in government reports, there is no comprehensive, national data on how many cases of sexual abuse have been reported in facilities housing the elderly.

Legal advocates, government regulators, criminal investigators and medical experts agree that sexual abuse in nursing homes can be extremely challenging to prevent and detect.  They say many facilities should be doing much more to protect vulnerable residents such has investigating a sexual assault claim until proven otherwise, preserving evidence, better staff training, more supervision  and a better reporting system.

CNN’s investigation shows that government regulators are not equipped to handle this problem for many reasons.  The reality is that lawsuits filed on behalf of sexual assault victims in nursing homes may be the most effective way to hold a negligent nursing home accountable for allowing these crimes to take place.

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