A systematic review of sexual assaults in nursing homes

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Purpose of the Study: The dramatic growth in the older adults (65 years+) has created an equivalent increase in the number of nursing home (NH) residents. NH residents often lack physical and cognitive abilities, making them particularly vulnerable to assault. Although sexual assault is among one of the most shocking types of assault, it is also the least acknowledged, detected, and reported type of assault against NH residents. This systematic review examines victim/perpetrator sociodemographic and relationship characteristics as well as the forensic characteristics of sexual assaults occurring in NH. Design and Methods: A 7 database systematic search of studies published between January 1, 1949 and October 26, 2015 was conducted that examined sexual assaults in NH. Articles reporting on sexual assault in NH and other institutional settings were eligible. Community-dwelling populations and studies not describing sexual assault or physical aspects of sexual assault were excluded. Sexual assault was not restricted to a single definition, study method, or country. Results: Fifteen studies met inclusion criteria. Sexual assault was the least reported type of assault in NH. Victims of sexual assault were likely to be females with cognitive or physical impairments. Perpetrators were likely to be male residents, although staff members were also substantiated. Forensic characteristics and investigative data were limited. Study limitation included inconsistencies between study purposes and small sample sizes. Implications: This review highlights a gap in knowledge regarding sexual assaults in NH and demonstrates a need for better staff training in detecting, examining, and managing sexual assaults in NH.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e369-e383
Number of pages15
JournalThe Gerontologist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2018


  • abuse/neglect
  • gender issues
  • institutional care/ residential care
  • quality of care

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