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Sexual Violence Allegations in Nursing Homes Seldom Result in Arrest

Authorities have investigated at least 86 cases of sexual violence against elderly and disabled residents of Chicago nursing homes since July 2007, but only one of those cases resulted in an arrest, a Chicago Tribune investigation has found.

Nursing homes are supposed to be safe places where the elderly can comfortably live out the rest of their lives. But a full 25 percent of Chicago nursing homes made reports of rape and sexual assault.

Who Is allegedly Abusing Nursing Home Patients?

In most of the reports, other patients were the alleged abusers. Only a few of the reports cited nursing home staff or visitors as the attackers.

Illinois is one of the only states that allow younger, mentally ill patients to be placed in nursing homes with seniors. Not surprisingly, nursing homes with the worst records of sexual violence also have the highest percentage of mentally ill patients and substandard staffing levels.

Why Are Police Reluctant to Arrest Suspects?

Police often have trouble arresting suspects in these cases because they can't gather enough evidence. Well-meaning nurses may clean rooms and patients after an attack and destroy evidence. Many elderly patients also fear retribution from their stronger attackers that they must continue to live with, so they hesitate to press charges.

Some also blame police for giving up too easily. As many mentally ill patients in Chicago nursing homes are already convicted felons and sex offenders, there's a good chance they would end up right back in the nursing care system. Patients suffering from dementia also have trouble describing events and make poor witnesses on the stand.

What Is Being Done?

Though the disconnect between reports of sexual assault and arrests is huge, the state of Illinois and the federal government are sending negligent nursing homes a clear message. Somerset, the Chicago nursing home with the highest number of reports, stands to lose both its license and its federal funding.

To address the bigger problem of where to house the mentally ill, the state plans to relocate 700 nursing home patients to their own apartments in a program called Money Follows the Person. The money used to pay for each person's nursing home care will be diverted to independent living services.

Nursing home victims of sexual assault may also have a civil claim against the nursing home for negligent hiring (if the accused was an employee) or negligent supervision (if the accused was a patient). For a civil suit, the victim or his or her family should contact a civil attorney familiar with sexual assault claims and nursing home claims.