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Types and signs of abuse

Being abused means a person is being treated with cruelty or violence. Abuse can vary from an incident, such a person treating someone without dignity and respect, to extreme punishment or mistreatment.

The signs of abuse aren't always obvious, and an adult might not feel able to tell anyone what's happening to them. Sometimes, adults don't even realise that what's happening to them is abuse.

There are different types of abuse and the signs that an adult is being abused may depend on the type. For example, the signs that an adult is being neglected may be different from the signs that an adult is being physically abused. Below are examples of signs that may indicate that an adult is being subjected to abuse.

How to report a concern

For less urgent concerns, please complete the Safeguarding Concern form. However, if you feel the person is in immediate danger, please dial 999.

You can also call the Safeguarding Adults team between 9am to 5:30pm Monday to Thursday and 9am to 5pm on Friday on 0800 137 915. Outside these hours you can call our Emergency Duty team on 0800 999 7677.

Types of abuse

Physical abuse

Physical force, e.g. assault, slapping, pushing, hitting, misuse of medication, or restraint.

Sexual abuse

This includes rape, sexual assault, indecent exposure, inappropriate looking or touching, sexual teasing or innuendo. It may also include witnessing sexual acts, or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented.

Domestic violence or abuse

This can include psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse.

Neglect and acts of omission

Ignoring medical, emotional or physical care needs, failure to provide access to appropriate health care and support. It can also include refusal to give medication, acceptable nutrition and heating.

Self-neglect

This covers a wide range of behaviour such as not taking care of personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding.

Financial or material abuse

This can include theft, fraud, internet scamming and intimidation leading to access to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements. This can vary from access to someone’s will, property, inheritance, or misuse of property, possessions or benefits.

Psychological abuse

This can include emotional abuse, threats of harm, humiliation, controlling and intimidation. Other behaviours may be harassment, verbal abuse, isolation or not allowing someone to see others.

Discriminatory abuse

Including forms of harassment, insults or similar treatment because of race, gender and gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion.

Organisational abuse

Neglect or poor care being delivered in a care setting, such as a hospital or care and residential home, or even care you receive in your own home. It can range from a one-off incident to ongoing poor treatment. Neglect may take place due to poor professional practice and incorrect policies within an organisation.

Hate crime

Similar to discriminatory abuse, a hate crime (or hate incident) is recognised by the law as mistreatment motivated by hostility or prejudice based on one of the five protected characteristics:

  • disability
  • race
  • religion
  • transgender identity
  • sexual orientation

Modern slavery

Involves slavery, human trafficking and forced labour. Trafficking and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to force individuals into a life of abuse and inhumane treatment.

Further information

For more information about safeguarding, please see our factsheets ‘What is abuse and neglect?’ and ‘What is adult safeguarding?’ on our Factsheets page.