What is Abuse?

Abuse is a violation of someone's human right to dignity and safety by someone. Abuse comes in many forms; some examples are:

  • Physical
  • Organisational
  • Sexual
  • Modern Slavery
  • Emotional/psychological
  • Discriminatory
  • Financial/material
  • Domestic abuse
  • Neglect/acts of omission
  • Self-neglect

Lots of different people may abuse adults at risk; some examples are:

  • People who deliberately target adults at risk
  • Members of the adult at risk’s own family and friends
  • People who are employed to care for adults at risk

Sometimes people are not actually aware that they are abusing someone. Carers of adults at risk may become abusive because they are stressed and tired. It is still important that you report these situations, as Social Services can help to reduce pressure on stressed carers. Carers can also be at risk of harm from the person they care for.

What are the signs of abuse?

There are many signs of abuse – ask if you are not sure!

Some examples are:

  • The person looks dirty or is not dressed properly
  • The person never seems to have money
  • The person has an injury that is difficult to explain
  • The person seems frightened

There may be other explanations but these are often signs of abuse.

These pages are about abuse of vulnerable people who are over 18. If you are concerned about a child's welfare, contact children's safeguarding. Abuse can take different forms, ranging from exploitation and disrespectful treatment to physical harm. It can be at a low level, and taking place over a long time, or it can take place over a short time and be more extreme. It's all abuse.

Abuse can happen anywhere, in your own home, in a care home, in a hospital, at work, at a day centre or educational establishment, in supported housing or in the street.

It can be deliberate, or the result of ignorance or a lack of proper training. Whatever the type of abuse, and wherever it happens, it is not acceptable, particularly when the victim is someone who is not able to properly protect themselves.

If you think that you or someone you know is being subjected to abuse then please go to our Report Abuse page for advice and details on whom to contact.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence has provided a useful guide for identifying abuse.


Definition of adult safeguarding

The Care Act statutory guidance defines adult safeguarding as:

‘Protecting an adult’s right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. It is about people and organisations working together to prevent and stop both the risks and experience of abuse or neglect, while at the same time making sure that the adult’s wellbeing is promoted including, where appropriate, having regard to their views, wishes, feelings and beliefs in deciding on any action. This must recognise that adults sometimes have complex interpersonal relationships and may be ambivalent, unclear or unrealistic about their personal circumstances.’

The adult safeguarding duties under the Care Act 2014 apply to an adult, aged 18 or over, who:

  • needs care and support (whether or not the authority is meeting any of those needs),
  • is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect, and
  • as a result of those needs is unable to protect himself or herself against the abuse or neglect or the risk of it.’

(Care Act 2014, section 42)

Safeguarding is for people who, because of issues such as dementia, learning disability, mental ill-health or substance abuse, have care and support needs that may make them more vulnerable to abuse or neglect.

The Six Principles

First introduced by the Department of Health in 2011, but now embedded in the Care Act, these six principles apply to all health and care settings.

  • Empowerment - People being supported and encouraged to make their own decisions and informed consent
  • Prevention - It is better to take action before harm occurs.
  • Proportionality - The least intrusive response appropriate to the risk presented.
  • Protection - Support and representation for those in greatest need.
  • Partnership - Local solutions through services working with their communities. Communities have a part to play in preventing, detecting and reporting neglect and abuse.
  • Accountability - Accountability and transparency in safeguarding practice.