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 the abuse of an adult
You can report the abuse of an adult to Buckinghamshire Council. We call this a safeguarding concern.
Submit a Safeguarding Concern
If you would like to submit a safeguarding concern, you can do this using our online service. You will need to create an account, which is quick and easy.
Submit an Anonymous Concern
If you would like to submit a safeguarding concern without making an account you can use our online form.
If you would prefer to speak to someone directly please call the First Response Team on 0800 137 915. Outside of working hours, call our Emergency Duty Team on 0800 999 7677.
If you feel the person is in immediate danger, dial 999.
Types of abuse
Physical force, e.g. assault, slapping, pushing, hitting, misuse of medication, or restraint.
- unexplained injuries – be concerned if the person and the people around them have different explanations for the cause of injuries
- bruising, cuts, sores, burns and/or marks on the body or loss of hair in clumps
- frequent suspicious hospitalisations
- sudden behavioural change, such as withdrawal, depression, aggression, regression
- signs of malnutrition
- delays between onset of injury and seeking medical attention
- failure to seek medical treatment or frequent changes of GP
- wariness of physical contact or fear of certain places
- person seems afraid of or wants to avoid a particular person
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.
- bruising, particularly to the thighs, buttocks and upper arms and marks on the neck
- torn, stained or bloody underclothing
- bleeding, pain or itching
- unusual difficulty in walking or sitting
- infections, unexplained genital discharge, or sexually transmitted diseases
- pregnancy in a woman who is unable to consent to sexual intercourse
- the uncharacteristic use of explicit sexual language or significant changes in sexual behaviour or attitude
- incontinence not related to any medical diagnosis
- poor concentration, withdrawal, sleep disturbance
- excessive fear/apprehension of, or withdrawal from, relationships
- fear of receiving help with personal care
- reluctance to be alone with a particular person
Domestic violence or abuse
This can include psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse.
- low self-esteem, withdrawal
- feeling that the abuse is their fault when it is not
- physical evidence of violence such as bruising, cuts, broken bones
- verbal abuse and humiliation in front of others
- fear of outside intervention
- damage to home or property
- isolation – not seeing friends and family
- limited access to money
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.
- poor environment – dirty or unhygienic
- poor physical condition and/or personal hygiene
- pressure sores or ulcers
- malnutrition or unexplained weight loss
- untreated injuries and medical problems
- inconsistent or reluctant contact with medical and social care organisations
- accumulation of untaken medication
- uncharacteristic failure to engage in social interaction
- inappropriate or inadequate clothing
This covers a wide range of behaviour such as not taking care of personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding.
- very poor personal hygiene
- unkempt appearance
- lack of essential food, clothing or shelter
- malnutrition and/or dehydration
- living in squalid or unsanitary conditions
- neglecting household maintenance
- collecting a large number of animals in inappropriate conditions
- non-compliance with health or care services
- inability or unwillingness to take medication or treat illness or injury
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.
- missing personal possessions
- unexplained lack of money
- unexplained withdrawal of funds from accounts
- Power of Attorney or Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) being obtained after the person has ceased to have mental capacity
- the family or others show unusual interest in the assets of the person
- signs of financial hardship in cases where the person’s financial affairs are being managed by a court appointed deputy, attorney or LPA
- recent changes in deeds or title to property
- rent arrears and eviction notices
- failure to provide receipts for shopping or other financial transactions carried out on behalf of the person
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.
- acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation
- harming, punishing, or frightening the person
- isolating the person from sources of support
- exploitation of resources or money
- preventing the person from escaping abuse
- regulating everyday behaviour
Including forms of harassment, insults or similar treatment because of race, gender and gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion.
- being withdrawn and isolated
- expressions of anger, frustration, fear or anxiety
- the support on offer does not take account of the person’s individual needs in terms of a protected characteristic
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.
- lack of flexibility and choice for people using the service
- inadequate staffing levels
- people being hungry or dehydrated
- poor standards of care and lack of adequate procedures
- lack of personal clothing and possessions and communal use of personal items
- poor record-keeping and missing documents
- absence of visitors
- few social, recreational and educational activities
- public discussion of personal matters
- unnecessary exposure during bathing or using the toilet
- absence of individual care plans
- lack of management overview and support
- lack of choice when it comes to things like meal times, bedtimes and activities
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:
- transgender identity
- sexual orientation
- verbal abuse like name-calling and offensive jokes
- bullying or intimidation by children, adults, neighbours or strangers
- physical attacks such as hitting, punching, pushing, spitting
- threats of violence
- hoax calls, abusive phone or text messages, hate mail
- online abuse for example on Facebook or Twitter
- displaying or circulating discriminatory literature or posters
- harm or damage to things such as your home, pet, vehicle
- throwing rubbish into a garden
- malicious complaints for example over parking, smells or noise
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.
- signs of physical or emotional abuse
- appearing to be malnourished, unkempt or withdrawn
- isolation from the community, seeming under the control or influence of others
- living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation and or living and working at the same address
- lack of personal effects or identification documents
- always wearing the same clothes
- avoidance of eye contact, appearing frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers
- fear of law enforcers
For more information about safeguarding, please see our factsheets ‘What is abuse and neglect?’ and ‘What is adult safeguarding?’ on our Factsheets page.