Imagine that you are helpless in bed, relying on another’s care for survival. One day, as you are being fed or bathed or changed, your caregiver turns against you and forces you to perform sex acts on him or takes advantage of you while you are sleeping. Now, imagine that you are elderly and that the likelihood of anyone believing what you have experienced is slim simply due to your age or other disability. These are the experiences of thousands of senior citizens and mentally or physically incapacitated patients throughout the country who reside in residential care facilities, assisted living centers, and other long-term care facilities.

Elder care sex abuse is not an issue most people are familiar with or have ever even conceived. It is not an issue that should ever have been conceived, yet the thought has crossed the minds of dozens of unfit caregivers, and many have acted upon them. As horrifying as it sounds, elder care abuse is barely on the radar. It is not even a priority for most law enforcement agencies and officials. But it is a serious issue that is gaining more awareness, as instances of abuse are on the rise.

A Hidden Problem

Throughout the United States, incidents of sex abuse toward those who are in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes have increased. Residents are assaulted by caretakers, facility personnel, other residents, and sometimes, even the owner himself. Sadly, there are currently no reliable national data due to a lack of organized data collection regarding these statistics. Just one organization — the Administration for Community Living based in Washington D.C. — has compiled any kind of data: approximately 20,000 complaints in a span of 20 years. This works out to about 3 complaints per day; this statistic excludes incidents of resident-on-resident sex abuse. Realistically, the numbers are likely much higher.

The issue is rampant and yet plagued by unawareness, apathy, and sheer neglect. No one really “believes” that elderly or incapacitated persons could be the victims of rape or other forms of sexual abuse. Victims may be too embarrassed to speak up, or they don’t think anyone will believe them. Families and friends who visit may suspect abuse but don’t wish to believe it or don’t want to get involved,