Psychiatric treatment centers are intended to help the mentally ill cope with their conditions and, if possible, begin to recover.
Unfortunately, not all of these facilities provide the nurturing environment that psychiatric patients need.
These patients are vulnerable and are often unable to complete their daily routine tasks without the assistance of others. Occasionally, an employee or a fellow patient will prey on this vulnerability by sexually assaulting or abusing a patient.
If you or a loved one have found yourself in this position, our lawyers are here to help.
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Sexual Abuse Of Patients By Other Patients
The dangers of sexual abuse and assault are made worse by the fact that, in many cases, both women and men are housed together in the same treatment facilities. In any mental health center, close supervision of patients is extremely important. But in mixed-gender facilities, it's especially important for qualified staff members to keep a watchful eye on patients.
In 2003, an 18-year old schizophrenic female patient was sexually assaulted by two male patients in the psychiatric ward of Philadelphia's Albert Einstein Medical Center. She was walking through the hallway when one of the men, who was also schizophrenic, grabbed and pulled her into his room. Somehow, no staff member noticed that such a horrible crime was taking place in the middle of the afternoon.
In Maryland in 2011, a female psychiatric patient was sexually assaulted by a male patient in a bathroom after the two left a gymnasium together, even though the staff was supposed to be supervising them. Rather than offer support for the victim, investigators repeatedly questioned and accused the victim of consenting to the sexual activity.
In both of these cases, like many other cases of patient-on-patient sexual assault, inadequate supervision is to blame. Many of these institutions handle investigations internally and are quick to dismiss accusations of sexual assault. At the time, Maryland used this internal investigations system. However, lawyers for the victim managed to negotiate with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to develop a safety and protection plan and require psychiatric evaluations for all patients.
Staff Members Sexually Abusing Patients
Staff members of psychiatric treatment centers have also been known to sexually abuse patients. These predators know that patients may be powerless to speak out against the abuse and that even when they do, these accusations may be dismissed because of their mental conditions. Abused patients are unable to leave the facility, don't have access to phones, and often are not permitted to have family visit them. They may report the abuse to another staff member, but these staff members often do not believe the allegations against their co-workers.
In 2012, California's Center for Investigative Reporting found that between 2009 and 2012, developmentally disabled patients had made 36 accusations of rape and molestation against staff in state inpatient facilities. These complaints are handled by the Office of Protective Services. This Office did not take a single complaint seriously and did not order one forensic examination or rape kit. In cases involving developmentally disabled patients, this physical evidence is even more important because victim testimony is often seen as unreliable.
Who Will Stand Up For Victims' Rights?
It's far too common for these institutions to deny these allegations in order to protect their public image. These patients deserve to be treated with the same respect as anyone else. When another patient or staff member sexually violates them, they deserve to see their attacker punished and to be compensated for their pain and suffering.
In the past few decades, our country has allowed mental health patients to become second-class citizens. Treatment centers have been closing all over the country, and the ones that remain open are frequently underfunded and understaffed. This creates a hazardous environment for patients where predators can easily act on their evil impulses.
When the mental health and criminal justice systems fail these people, the civil court system can help. A lawsuit can help hold accountable the institutions which allow this abuse to happen through negligent actions, such as insufficient supervision. It helps raise national awareness of the problem and demands that these institutions do more to protect the people in their care. Additionally, lawsuits help victims recover the financial compensation they need after suffering such traumatic sexual assaults, including coverage for:
- Medical expenses
- Psychiatric treatment expenses
- Lost wages, if applicable
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
If you or a loved one has suffered sexual assault or sexual abuse in a mental health facility, our victims' rights lawyers are here to help. We'll gladly listen to your story in a free consultation and do all that we can to ensure that you receive the justice you deserve.