Sexual assault in psychiatric facilities is one of the most prevalent, yet least-discussed forms of sexual assault. How can we recognize when such assaults are happening? What can we do to raise awareness of the danger?
In our previous blog post, we highlighted the issue of sexual assault in psychiatric facilities. Despite its frequency, it is regularly left out of public discussions on sexual assault and abuse. Recognizing when it occurs is the first step in raising awareness of the issue as a whole.
In Part 2 of this blog installment, we will review ways to recognize when sexual assault may be happening in a psychiatric facility, and will suggest ways that we can begin to increase public awareness of these heinous assaults. Read on to learn more about what can be done.
Sexual assault survivors in general may have hesitations and reservations in speaking up about incidents, often due to fear of retaliation, shame, embarrassment, or confusion.
On top of these commonly experienced reservations, mental health patients in particular may face additional difficulties in reporting sexual assault or discussing it. For instance, the patient may have a heightened fear that they will not be believed if they report an incident. Also, psychiatric patients may not always be in a position to communicate what is happening with them or in their environment.
For these reasons, it is all the more important for family members and loved ones of mental health patients to be especially vigilant for signs of sexual abuse. Signs can be both physical, and emotional/behavioral. Likewise, staff conduct can also indicate signs of abuse. Indicators set forth by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) can provide much guidance on these signs.
The CMS State Operations Manual defines Immediate Jeopardy (IJ) as “a situation in which the provider’s noncompliance with one or more requirements of participation has caused, or is likely to cause, serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident.” Once a hospital or healthcare organization gets an IJ rating, it’s given a time frame to fix the deficiency. If not, CMS will terminate the facility’s Medicare and Medicaid funding.
According to the CMS Manual, signs of sexual abuse in a psychiatric facility may include:
Other physical signs of sexual abuse may include the presence of sexually transmitted disease, frequent urination, and torn or damaged clothing.
Not all instances of sexual assault leave physical indicators of the abuse. In many cases, emotional and behavioral changes can be strong signs that sexual assault is occurring. The key is being able to recognize changes in the patient’s normal behavior. This requires an understanding of their patterns of behavior. Frequent, regular visits and/or consistent communication with caretakers can help in this regard.
The behavior and conduct of the staff at a mental health facility can also provide signs and indicators that sexual assault may be occurring. Such signs associated with staff include:
Other signs of potential sexual abuse by staff include: using derogatory sexual terms, exhibiting an aggressive demeanor, and seeing or treating others as sexual objects.
If you recognize any of these physical, emotional/behavioral, or administrative signs of sexual abuse, contact authorities promptly and file a report. You should also contact a sexual assault lawyer, as further legal action may be needed to pursue the proper remedy (such as an investigation into the facility as a whole).
As individuals, professionals, and as a community, we can take steps to educate others about these injustices and prompt the necessary action for reform.
Sexual assaults in mental health facilities, prisons and jails, long-term care facilities, and other similar institutions can often be ongoing issues, not just single isolated incidents. For instance, at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Dublin, an entire culture of sexual assault and rape was fostered at the facility, to the point where the facility was dubbed the “Rape Club.”
Such conditions can exist in psychiatric facilities as well. If there is an incident of sexual assault on site, it is very probable that other incidents may have happened besides that one. This is known as “institutional abuse” — meaning that the sexual abuse may be systematic and built into the faulty policies and practices of the facility itself.
Thus, it’s important to report any suspicious behavior or conditions, both in terms of the patient’s demeanor as well as the staff’s conduct.Be cautious about placing a loved one in a psychiatric facility, nursing home, or long-term care facility, or other similar institution if:
Consider these locations of Universal Health Services hospitals in California, which have been subject to formal investigations:
Again, if you learn of any abusive behavior, or suspect that a mental health facility is violating the rights of patients, contact a lawyer for advice. Filing a claim against such an institution can be complex, especially if a potential Immediate Jeopardy violation may be involved.
There are many actions we can take in order to combat sexual abuse in psychiatric facilities. As individuals, professionals, and as a community, we can take steps to educate others about these injustices and prompt the necessary action for reform.
As individuals, it is within our power to:
At the Pride Law Firm, it is our aim to:
As a community, we should:
By educating ourselves and others, standing up, and taking action, we can begin to break down the barriers to reporting and investigating associated with mental health facilities. Pursuing legal action for injustices and reforming the law can help prevent future incidents from occurring.
Sexual assaults in psychiatric facilities have been allowed to persist because they often happen in the dark, away from the attention needed to bring about change. At the Pride Law Firm, we are passionate about making community-wide changes that improve the safety and security of patients in such facilities.If you or a loved one have been affected by sexual abuse in a mental health facility, contact us at 619-516-8166. All consultations are completely private and held in the strictest of privacy. Together we can create ways to bring justice to your family and the greater community as well.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault, child sexual abuse, or workplace sexual harassment we are here to answer your questions, provide a free and confidential case evaluation, and connect you to resources. By contacting us, you consent to receive marketing communications and other advertisements from Pride Law Firm.
The Pride Law Firm
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San Diego, CA 92108
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