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Elder Sexual Abuse in California

American demographics are shifting. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that by 2030, the entire baby boomer generation will be 65 years old or older. And by 2034, the 65-plus age group will outnumber children aged 18 and under for the first time.

As the number of older Americans grows, it’s important to raise awareness of and rally community efforts to prevent elder abuse. Already, one in 10 elderly adults falls victim to elder abuse, and researchers believe many more cases go unreported.

Sexual elder abuse is one unfortunate and disturbing aspect of the exploitation of our vulnerable elders.

What Is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is any intentional or negligent treatment of an adult over 65 years of age that results in physical or emotional harm. Most elderly abuse falls into five broad categories:

  1. Physical abuse: Assault and battery, including hitting, kicking, slapping, pushing, or unreasonable use of physical or pharmaceutical restraints
  2. Sexual abuse: Covered below
  3. Emotional abuse: Including threats, intimidation, and verbal abuse, such as insults and name-calling
  4. Neglect: Failing to provide adequate food, drink, clothing, shelter, and medical treatment or failing to assist with personal hygiene
  5. Financial abuse: Taking or obtaining funds or property for improper uses

What Is Elder Sexual Abuse?

California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (EADACPA) defines elder abuse. It also stipulates criminal penalties and establishes the basis for civil action for elder abuse.

The EADACPA includes elder sexual abuse under the category of elder physical abuse. Under the EADACPA, elder sexual abuse includes:

  • Sexual battery, which includes touching someone’s intimate parts, whether clothed or unclothed, “for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse”
  • Rape, which is described in Section 261 of the California Penal Code
  • Incest, sodomy, and oral copulation
  • Sexual penetration by a foreign object
  • Lewd or lascivious acts, such as exposure of the genitalia or forced viewing of pornography

Elder Sexual Abuse Statistics

Research into elder abuse is ongoing but not as extensive as corresponding research into child abuse. Consequently, few studies or government programs have compiled comprehensive elder abuse statistics. 

The National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS)—a program under the Administration for Community Living within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—is the first program of its kind, collecting data from state adult protective services (APS) programs. However, NAMRS efforts are still in the developmental stages.

Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) based on meta-analyses of published research show that 0.9% of elders aged 60 and older report having been sexually abused. And elders in long-term care facilities are twice as likely (1.9%) to have reported sexual abuse.

One study found that more than 90% of the victims of elder sexual abuse were women. The abusers’ ages varied widely, ranging from 13 to 90.

Examples of Elder Sexual Abuse in a Care Home

A guidance document for mandatory reporters of elder abuse published by the California Department of Justice provides two examples of elder sexual abuse in nursing homes:

  1. “An employee is observed kissing an older Alzheimer’s resident on her lips while fondling her breasts.”
  2. “A caregiver sends pictures of himself with a resident that are inappropriate, offensive, or demeaning/degrading, believing his friends will think such photos or poses are funny.”

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Elderly

Signs of elderly sexual abuse can be both physical and behavioral. Physical indicators include:

  • Bruises that wrap around the wrists (indicating restraint)
  • Bruises around the breasts, inner thighs, or genital areas
  • Bleeding at or around the genital areas or anus
  • Torn, stained, or bloody underwear or bedding

Victims of elder sexual abuse may also exhibit behaviors that are indicative of having experienced trauma, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Withdrawal
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Marked fear of certain people

What to Do if You Suspect Elder Sexual Abuse

In general, if your loved one’s behavior changes suddenly or is uncharacteristic, it’s wise to try to speak with them privately to try to ascertain the cause of their altered conduct.

Sexual abuse does not typically occur in the open, so frequent visits and contact with your loved one are important preventive measures. Social support is also important in the aftermath of abuse. A 2020 study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice says, “Victims of elder abuse who receive a high level of social support experience less depression and report less generalized anxiety and poor health.”

What to do if you suspect elder sexual abuse graphic

Any time you see an elderly person in immediate danger, call 911. For other cases in which you suspect sexual abuse, report the incident to the appropriate agency:

  • If the victim lives in their own home rather than a nursing home or assisted living facility, file a report with Adult Protective Services (APS). California has a 24-hour APS hotline: 833-401-0832.
  • If the victim lives in a nursing home or assisted living facility, contact the local long-term care ombudsman. An ombudsman is an advocate for elderly individuals who live in long-term care. California has a 24-hour ombudsman hotline: 800-231-4024.
  • For elder sexual abuse cases in long-term care facilities, you can also file a report with the following state agencies:
  • You can also contact the local police or sheriff’s department to report suspected criminal elder sexual abuse.

Elder Sexual Assault Lawsuits

Under California’s EADACPA, victims of elder sexual abuse can pursue civil claims against the perpetrators.

A civil lawsuit for sexual assault (per the California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 340.16) must be initiated by the later of the following timelines:

  • Within ten years of the last act or attempted act of sexual assault
  • Within three years of the victim discovering that an injury or illness resulted from the sexual assault

Victims are eligible to recover economic, noneconomic, and punitive damages and attorney fees and costs: 

  • Economic damages include things like reimbursement for medical bills for treatment for injuries resulting from the alleged sexual assault. 
  • Noneconomic damages include compensation for a victim’s pain and suffering. 
  • Punitive damages are intended to punish abusers whose behavior was reckless, malicious, or oppressive.

California Elderly Sexual Assault Attorneys

The experienced Bakersfield elder abuse lawyers of Chain | Cohn | Clark understand the bewilderment and anguish you may feel because of a sexual assault on your loved one. As an elderly sexual assault law firm with an established track record, Chain | Cohn | Clark is the advocate you need in this difficult time.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation about your elderly sexual abuse case.

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