April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month – a good time to remind ourselves of our loved ones’ vulnerability and our responsibility to keep a watchful eye.
Seniors are often reluctant to report or act upon any form of abuse. Due to fear of abandonment or retaliation by the abuser, they are often hesitant to speak up. If the abuser is a loved one or even a spouse, the senior might want to protect that person from being punished. But there are signs of abuse, including sexual abuse, that loved ones and caregivers can and should look for.
According to the National Committee to Prevent Elder Abuse, signs of sexual abuse might include physical, emotional and behavioral indicators.
Physical signs might include:
- Genital or anal pain, irritation, or bleeding
- Bruises on external genitalia or inner thighs
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Torn, stained or bloody underclothing or bedding
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Behavioral indicators
Behavioral and emotional signs of abuse might include:
- New or worsening depression
- Fear of a family member, friend or caregiver
- Unusual withdrawal
- Anger or violent outbursts
- Trouble sleeping
- Unusual behavior, such as rocking or crying
It is important to remember that abuse is only one possible explanation for these behaviors and physical conditions, and no single indicator can be considered proof of abuse. Many things, including dementia, problems with medications, or changes in physical health, also can explain each of these situations.
However, if you suspect that an aging loved one is being abused in any way, it is important to seek help. Home Helpers caregivers are trained to spot the signs of elder abuse and required by law to report them. Doepke encourages anyone who sees signs of abuse to do the same.
If you suspect abuse, help is just a phone call away. In DuPage County, suspected cases of elder abuse should be reported to DuPage County Human Services at (800) 942-9412. In Cook County, call Aging Care Connections at (708) 354-1323.