Recognising and reporting abuse

Signs of abuse can be difficult to detect, and many types of abuse are criminal offences and should be treated as such.​

People with care and support needs, such as older people or people with disabilities, are more likely to become victims of abuse and neglect. They may be seen as easy targets and may be less likely to identify abuse themselves or to report it.

People with communication difficulties can be at particular risk because they may not be able to alert others, and sometimes they may not even be aware that they are being abused; this is especially likely if they have a cognitive impairment. Abusers may try to prevent others from helping the person they abuse.

Types of abuse

​Physical abuse includes:

  • Assault
  • Hitting
  • Slapping
  • Pushing
  • Kicking
  • Misuse of medication
  • Being locked in a room
  • Inappropriate sanctions
  • Force-feeding
  • Inappropriate methods of restraint
  • Unlawfully depriving a person of their liberty

​An incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse, by someone who is or has been an intimate partner or family member, regardless of gender or sexuality.

This includes:

  • Psychological abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • 'Honour-based' violence
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Forced marriage

Sexual abuse includes:

  • Rape
  • Indecent exposure
  • Sexual harassment
  • Inappropriate looking or touching
  • Sexual teasing or innuendo
  • Sexual photography
  • Subjection to pornography or witnessing sexual acts
  • Indecent exposure
  • Sexual assault or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into consenting

​Psychological abuse includes 'emotional abuse' and takes the form of:

  • Threats of harm or abandonment
  • Deprivation of contact
  • Humiliation
  • Rejection
  • Blaming
  • Controlling
  • Intimidation
  • Coersion
  • Indifference
  • Harassment
  • Verbal abuse (including shouting or swearing)
  • Cyber bullying
  • Isolation
  • Withdrawal from services or support networks


​Financial and material abuse includes: theft, fraud and internet scamming.

Financial abuse also includes coercion in relation to an adult's financial affairs or arrangements, including in connection with wills, property inheritence or financial transactions, the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.

​Modern slavery includes human trafficking, forced and compulsory labour and domestic servitude. Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.

Discriminatory abuse includes harassment, slurs and other similar treatment alongside jokes or comments based on someones:

  • Race
  • Faith or religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Political views 

​Organisational abuse incudes neglect and poor care practices within an institution or specific care setting such as a hospital, care home or where care is provided within their own home. This may range from one off incidents to on-going ill-treatment. This can occur through neglect or poor professional practice as a result of the structure, policies, processes and practices within an organisation.

​This includes ignoring medical, emotional or physical care needs, failure to provide access to appropriate health, social care or educational services, and the withholding of the necessities of life such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating.

​Self-neglect involves failing to care for one's health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding.

Patterns of abuse

Patterns of abuse vary though tend to appear in three main forms.

  1. Serial abuse - where a perpetrator seeks out and 'grooms' individuals. Sexual abuse sometimes fall into this pattern as do some form of financial abuse.
  2. Long-term abuse - ongoing family relationship such as domestic violence between spouses.
  3. Opportunistic abuse - where theft is occurring because money or jewellery has been left lying around.

Incidents of abuse may be one-off or multiple, and affect one person or more. Abuse or neglect may be the result of deliberate intert, negligence or ignorance.

Before submitting a concern

Before submitting a safeguarding concern, professionals should consider the following guidance: