“I don’t care how old they are,” Miller said. “You cannot turn them onto a population that cannot protect themselves in any shape or form.”The idea of a loved one in a nursing home being abused sexually is heart-wrenching. Nursing home residents are vulnerable for many reasons--illness, weakness, dementia, unlocked doors to residents' rooms, inadequate staffing, poor management, among others.
Before we make generalizations based on the one case mentioned in the Omaha World-Herald article of an elderly resident being abused by another resident who was a sex offender, perhaps we should find out how often this happens. It goes without saying that even a single incident is unacceptable so we must protect residents from those who would abuse the elderly.
The first question ought to be, who does perpetrate sex abuse against elderly nursing home and assisted living residents? Are elderly sex offenders the biggest risk?
It seems not.
Very little research exists regarding perpetrator risk factors because commentators cannot agree on who are the most common perpetrators. One study found that the majority of perpetrators were nursing home employees, and that other residents abused only three in twenty victims. This finding reinforces the widely-held perception that most elder sexual abuse is committed by the people charged with the elder's care. In contrast, another study found that the most frequent perpetrators of sexual abuse in the institutional setting are other residents, rather than staff members.Perpetrators frequently suffer from untreated psychiatric conditions or abuse drugs or alcohol Ten to fifteen percent of nursing home employees abuse drugs or alcohol, which increases the likelihood of sexual abuse in nursing homes.
Nurse aides, who comprise the largest proportion of nursing home employees, not surprisingly are the most frequent perpetrators of abuse. However, these employees are not the only employees with access to residents. Laundry aides, security guards, and maintenance workers also have been accused of abuse.While dementia and mental illness may make some elderly sex offenders dangerous, dementia and mental illness can make other elderly residents just as dangerous.
Turning away sex offenders who need care at a nursing home or an assisted living facility simply because of a conviction committed years if not decades earlier is cruel.
The first line of defense should be within the nursing home: better training for staff, locked doors to keep intruders out of residents' rooms, cameras in the hallways, improved caregiver-to-resident ratios, better pay for staff...all of these measures could help to reduce the incidence of abuse.
Until it is proven that sex offenders pose more risk than other nursing home residents, we should not write legislation as if they do.
Once again, imagining something does not make it real.
Once again, hysteria about sex offenders gets in the way of measures that would definitely improve community safety.
Legislators need to ask themselves what they are trying to do: Demonstrate their disgust for sex offenders or actually reduce sexual assaults in nursing homes?