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Blog > Sexual Assault in Psychiatric Facilities: Why Is It So Common?24 min read
(Last Updated On: September 9, 2022)

Podcast Transcript

Jeremy Lynch:
So Jessica, going back to something that you brought up at the be, or Landon did at the beginning of the show, about psychiatric ward incidents and assaults, I’m kind of interested how prevalent is that. And, and, you know, it might not even be a psychiatric ward. It might be just a therapy facility where somebody goes in and then is in a vulnerable moment or setting, and is taken advantage of in your experience, has this become, is this on the rise? Is this something we’re seeing more of? Is there something that the survivors of these incidents have to do differently than some of the other sexual assaults that you have seen or handle?

Jessica Pride:
Yeah, unfortunately it is an unknown danger that most people are not aware of. And the thing that people aren’t aware is that psychiatric facilities across the country are co-ed … co-ed. That means men and women are housed together in locked psychiatric facilities, men vulnerable, mentally ill people who are then placed on heavy, you know, medication, our house together. We don’t even have co-ed jails, but we have co-ed psychiatric facilities. I mean, it’s a recipe for disaster. And so, as we got into these types of cases, we started looking at the statistics and looking at this is actually a global problem. It happens in the UK too, but the UK actually just changed their, the way that they do it and segregated based on gender. I hope the United States will catch up because we saw that there was a 40% reduction in sexual assaults if we segregated based on gender.

So generally what we saw, how it happened is that within 24 hours, you know, imagine you’re having the worst day of your life so much so that you’ve, you know, in, in most of my cases that my client tried to take their own life or are so depressed, manic, severe postpartum depression, I mean, there’s all different kinds of reasons that someone is placed in a lock psychiatric facility in California. The term is you get placed on what’s called a 51-50 hold. That means you are that found to be a danger to yourself or to others and have to be placed on a mandatory 72-hour, hold in a, in a locked facility. I mean, you can’t leave. And usually, once you get there, they dope you up with medication. And so you become sedated. And we found that within 24 hours there is a high percentage of people who are sexually assaulted by other patients there sometimes it’s by the employees themselves.

But if you’re going to, when predators are looking for someone to assault, they look for their vulnerable people. It’s always a vulnerable person. And so talk about a more vulnerable population than people who are mentally ill and incapacitated. And so it’s just such an atrocity because I’m sure all of us know someone that we love or care about who’s mentally ill and has had to, to then take that bad situation and sexually assault them on top of it. Now you’ve spiraled them out. You spiraled them out into a place that is so hard to recover from. So my firm we just finished a case. We have a number of other cases we are taking on this project because we just don’t think it’s okay. We want site boards to become segregated for them to do other things, to keep survivors safe.

There are other different types of ways to, from, you know, closing the bedroom doors and requiring that survivors stay out in the common areas during the day. There, there are so many different steps. So if you have a loved one or, you know, someone in a psych ward or your family member, someone, or you ever have to go to a psych ward, know that they’re, co-ed have your family checking up on you require, especially if you have a history of being sexually abused, you are even more vulnerable. So you need to make sure that they label you as a high sexual assault, risk alert. So that you’re getting a one-to-one, meaning one staff is watching one person, one patient, there are things that can be put in place to protect you, but if you’re family or you don’t know to ask for those things, you’re really just kind of a sitting duck. And I, I don’t wanna see anyone else get abused. So, and a lot of people think, well, I was in a psych ward. No, one’s gonna believe me. I believe you. And I know the stats, my office knows the stats. We’re definitely here to help.

A watchdog group filed over 6,000 complaints about potential negligence and sexual and physical assaults on patients in psychiatric facilities in one year alone. Why are these specific types of abuses so common? Why aren’t we hearing more about these incidents? And what can be done to eliminate them?

Awareness campaigns such as the #MeToo Movement have illuminated many areas of sexual abuse. However, sexual assault of patients in psychiatric wards has largely been left out of the conversation. This specific type of sexual assault raises alarming questions about the safety and conditions in our country’s psychiatric facilities and mental health prisons.

Underreporting, lack of data, and inadequate legal enforcement have all contributed to the conditions that allow sexual assault in psychiatric facilities to persist. Recognizing the issue and raising awareness of it are some of the first steps we can take to eradicating these egregious acts.

Legal action also provides strong avenues of change and justice for issues such as this. In some instances, lawsuits can bring about more immediate results and awareness in ways that are faster than legislation or other means.

If you or a loved one have been affected by sexual assault in a psychiatric facility, contact The Pride Law Firm at (619) 516-8166. Our firm exists to return power to survivors by providing them with the necessary resources and representation they need to heal, recover, and move forward again.

Why Is Sexual Assault in Psychiatric Facilities So Common?

In a word, lack of reporting and data is perhaps the main reason why sex abuse in psychiatric facilities is so common.

According to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the majority of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Only 310 out of every sexual assaults are ever reported to authorities, meaning 2 of 3 incidents go unreported. RAINN cites various reasons for non-reporting, including fear of retaliation and a belief that the police will not do anything.

For sexual assault survivors at psychiatric facilities, failure to report can be even more intensified.

What Prevents Sexual Assault in Mental Health Facilities From Being Reported:

  • Fear of their environment
  • Barriers to contacting law enforcement (both real and perceived)
  • Feelings of not being believed
  • Survivors may often be highly medicated and held against their will

Due to the historical lack of reporting for these types of sexual assault cases, data is severely limited. There is no nation or state-wide requirement for reporting instances of sexual assaults within such facilities.

As a result, we do not have accurate data regarding:

  • The number of actual reports
  • The process for investigating such changes
  • The level of detail included in any existing reports

Another note is that patients tend to report sexual assault only when discussing what happened to their support systems. Strong support systems of patients are consistently the reason that they come forward to make a disclosure.

Who Are the Perpetrators of Sex Abuse in Psychiatric Treatment Centers?

Perpetrators of sex abuse in psychiatric treatment centers generally fall into two categories:

  • Staff to patient
  • Patient to patient

In staff to patient cases, the abuse can occur due to certain dynamics between the staff member and the patient. For instance, the staff member may use their position of authority to intimidate the patient into abusive conduct or situations.

In patient to patient cases, the abuse often occurs in situations where the patients are left alone, such as in a shared room or in a secluded area of the facilities. Inadequate supervision due to understaffing may play a role in these types of cases

Lastly, the abuse can also occur in cases where there is a visitor to the facility. This is especially the case when the visitor is there regularly or for extended periods of time.

All types of abuse are egregious wrongs that often occur under conditions of secrecy, and often involve threats or coercions that prevent the survivor from reporting the incident.

One of the strongest ways to raise awareness of the conditions in such facilities is to hold responsible parties liable through a lawsuit.

Who Is Responsible for Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence in Mental Hospitals?

While specific persons may be idenitified as the perpetrator in a sexual assault incident at a mental hospital, various other persons can also be held liable or responsible for the overall situation.

For instance, the staff, medical professionals, or security may be found negligent for allowing certain conditions where the abuse can occur.

Such conditions can include:

  • Not providing adequate monitoring and security for patients (often a result of understaffing)
  • Lack of thorough background checks when hiring on-site employees
  • Failure to report incidents to law enforcement or the proper authorities
  • Actively “covering up” and failing to acknowledge the existence of sexual abuse
  • Ignoring sexual assault laws and protocols for psychiatric facilities

These types of factors are similar to those found in other situations, such as school assaults, workplace sexual assault or religious sexual assault. In such settings, upper management or leadership may actually contribute to systemic, repeated cycles of assaults, allowing them to exist for years and even decades. Conditions in mental health facilities are also often highly similar to those in rehabilitation facilities.

While there may be scattered policies regarding sexual risk, staffing requirements, and sex-based room seaparations in psychiatric facilities, they can often be ignored and leave patients even more vulnerable to attacks.

The bottom line is that mental health patients are not to blame when they are sexually assaulted — it is our job as attorneys to investigate the circumstances and bring the liable parties to light so justice can be served. In doing so, further instances of assault can be prevented, and entire structures of abuse dismantled.

Contact a Lawyer for Assistance With a Sexual Assault Lawsuit

Sexual assault in psychiatric hospitals and faciliites is an ongoing issue that happens far too often without the public knowing about the situation. One of the strongest ways to raise awareness of the conditions in such facilities is to hold responsible parties liable through a lawsuit.

Legal action can help bring the matter into the light of the public eye, and can help uncover further instances of abuse. At The Pride Law Firm, we have helped people from all walks of life heal from sexual assault and have helped them obtain justice for their losses.

Whether you have questions or just need support for your experience, you can confide in our team. Contact us at (619) 516-8166 to discuss your claim in a completely confidential, private setting where your needs will be heard with the utmost compassion and sensitivity.

Click here to read Part 2 of this series on Sexual Assault in Psychiatric Facilities.

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