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Sexual Abuse of Vulnerable Patients at Nursing Homes

The state of Arizona made national headlines after state officials announced they would be investigating a nursing facility where a woman who was in a vegetative state for more than a decade unexpectedly gave birth.

According to reports, the Phoenix woman started to moan in pain right before New Year’s Day. That is when staff at the facility realized the woman had gone into labor. The public is now asking why none of the staff noticed the woman was pregnant.

Although the implications of these events are shocking, and might seem unprecedented to most people, unfortunately, stories like these occur more often than any of us expect.  Incidents of sexual abuse and sexual assault occur more often than expected at nursing homes, group homes, medical clinics, physical therapy clinics, and hospitals.

In fact, in 2018, National Public Radio and the U.S. Department of Justice reported that people who have disabilities are 7 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than people without disabilities. According to a 2012 national study, 30% of respondents with disabilities had also been sexually abused. A similar study conducted in Florida in 2017 revealed that 30% of teens who were survivors of sex trafficking had cognitive disabilities.

Despite the research described above, many people continue to remain silent about this prevalent issue that impacts the disabled community.

Why Do People Remain Silent?

One of the reasons these types of sexual assaults continue to occur is because many people don’t view those with cognitive disabilities as sexual beings. Sometimes, people conflate what is appropriate physical contact with a staff member, family member, or acquaintance. Perpetrators choose the disabled to be their victims because they think it will be too hard to prove the assault ever occurred, making it more likely that the perpetrator will avoid prosecution.

Do Nursing Facilities Conduct Background Checks?

In Arizona, employees who work with vulnerable populations are required to have a background check as a condition of their employment. Unfortunately, less than 1% of all abuse claims are ever substantiated by Adult Protective Services. This means that repeat offenders who are never charged can slip through the cracks and the allegations against them might never be fully investigated.

Another contributor to sexual assaults among disabled people is the fact that trainings about defining, recognizing, and reporting signs of sexual abuse are required for state-funded residential providers. Unlike other states, Arizona does not use state funding to contribute to specific sexual assault services or prevention efforts.

In the last few months, the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council has put together a task force composed of state agencies, researchers, advocacy organizations, and people with disabilities. This group of informed professionals will advise on research to measure the impact of sexual abuse on Arizonans with disabilities, the State’s response, and best practices to combat the issue. The group will also make recommendations for how to strengthen regulations and existing State statutes.

Phoenix Sexual Abuse Lawyers

Have you or someone you know been sexually assaulted or sexual abused at a nursing facility, doctor’s office, medical clinic, or hospital in Arizona? If so, contact our team of legal professionals to discuss the details your case. At Montoya, Lucero & Pastor, P.A., we are committed to assisting clients who have suffered sexual abuse and sexual assault and we will use our full resources to fight for the justice you deserve.

Let us get to work for you today. Call (602) 483-6869 to request your case evaluation with a personal injury lawyer in Phoenix.