Your beloved family member has been admitted to the hospital because of an illness. You put your trust and faith in the team of medical professionals who are responsible for her care. If you discover that your trust has been breached and your loved one has experienced an assault, it can be devastating.
For a few families in New Jersey, this was the case recently at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. A registered nurse was arrested and charged with the sexual assault of two patients, including a 74-year-old woman.
Learning that your family member has suffered abuse in a hospital is an egregious betrayal. Sadly, it is estimated that as many as 1 in 10 seniors suffers some form of abuse.
What Constitutes Sexual Abuse in Nursing Situations?
Not all sexual abuse is violent. Sexual abuse can occur when a patient is incapable of:
- giving meaningful consent to sexual contact,
- understanding the nature of the contact, or
- refusing the contact due to a disparity in power or physical strength.
Sexual relations based on an abuse of power, whether physical or emotional, are abusive. When the victim is trapped in a relationship with his/her caregiver who is also the abuser, it can lead to lasting damage.
What Signs or Symptoms Suggest Sexual Abuse?
Because of the power imbalance between victims and aggressors, there are many times when sexual abuse goes unreported. Victims may be unable to find the words to describe what has happened to them due to fear or a medical condition. Families need to be on the alert for signs or symptoms that suggest abuse, including:
- Unexplained bruising or pain, especially in private areas
- Bed sores or physical symptoms of neglect
- Significant weight changes
- Refusal to take medications as directed
- Changes in personality
- Withdrawal from social interactions
- Behavioral changes not attributable to the senior’s diagnoses
- Caregiver refuses to allow you to be alone with the patient
Sexual abuse is extremely detrimental to seniors’ physical and mental health and must be addressed immediately and decisively. The first step is making sure they are safe. The second step is investigating the facts and circumstances, evaluating whether any other party may be responsible for helping the senior recover his or her damages. If your loved one has suffered at the hands of a caregiver, contact Blume Forte Fried Zerres & Molinari at (973) 635-5400 to speak to a New Jersey nursing malpractice attorney.