In a criminal case closely followed by the nursing home industry, nursing home residents, and their spouses and families, an elderly Iowa man was acquitted on April 22, 2015 of criminal charges that he sexually abused his wife while she was a resident of a nursing home. The alleged sexual contact occurred on May 23, 2014; the woman died in August 2014.
The 78-year-old retired farmer and former state legislator was charged with having nonconsensual sexual contact with his wife in her nursing home room. The prosecution alleged that the woman’s Alzheimer’s disease had prevented her from consenting to sex with her husband, and that the nursing home staff had advised the man that his wife did not have the ability to consent to sexual contact.
The Iowa jury evidently determined that the prosecution had failed to prove that the man had sexual contact with his wife after being told not to do so, and/or that his wife did not have the mental capacity to consent to sexual contact.
The prosecution was hampered by the lack of any eyewitness to the alleged sexual contact (the woman’s 86-year-old roommate testified during the trial that she heard sounds from behind a curtain on the date of the alleged sexual contact but she could not say they were sounds of sexual contact) and the lack of any sign of injury during a physical examination of the woman on the night of the alleged sexual contact (swabs from the examination failed to reveal any evidence of sexual contact).
The prosecution relied, in part, on an interview of the husband that was secretly recorded weeks after the alleged incident. During the two-hour interview, the husband appeared confused at times even though he allegedly admitted that he tried to have sex with his wife (the defense argued that the elderly defendant gave a false statement as a result of being badgered during the lengthy interview).
The defendant testified during his trial that the only physical contact that he had with his wife on the day of the alleged criminal act was holding hands and kissing his wife. During cross examination by the prosecutor, the man was asked whether his wife had the capacity to consent to sexual contact. The man responded, “I always assumed that if somebody asks for something, they have the capacity.”
Many people who were following the Iowa criminal prosecution were concerned about the effect that a conviction would have on other couples when one of them has dementia: if the Iowa jury had convicted the man of sexually abusing his wife because she did not have the capacity to consent to sexual contact, what would be the effect on couples engaging in intimacy — how do you prove the effect of someone’s dementia on his/her capacity to consent to sexual contact? Should the risk of criminal prosecution interfere with a couple’s very personal relationship?
There may be a fine line between protecting vulnerable adults in a nursing home environment and impermissibly interfering with nursing home residents’ personal rights that can be inadvertently or intentionally crossed at great personal risk and cost to nursing home residents and their loved ones (including but not limited to their spouses).
If you or a loved one suffered serious injury (or worse) as a result of bad care (or the lack of care) in a nursing home in the United States, you should promptly find a nursing home lawyer in your state who may investigate your nursing home claim for you and represent you in a case against a nursing home, if appropriate.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.