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What is abuse and neglect?

Abuse happens when a person who is unable to protect themselves is ill treated or neglected. It may be a one-off incident, or may happen repeatedly over time. Anyone can harm an adult who is not able to protect themselves; for example, a partner, relative, friend, neighbour, care worker, and the abuse may take place anywhere, in a public or private place.

Safeguarding Adults – Easy Read

Examples of people who might be at risk of abuse or neglect include:

  • someone who is frail, due to ageing
  • someone with a serious health condition
  • someone with a physical disability
  • someone with a visual impairment
  • someone with a hearing impairment
  • someone with a learning disability
  • someone with a mental health difficulty
  • someone who has memory problems or dementia
  • victims of domestic violence
  • someone who is addicted to drugs or other substances
  • a carer

Patterns of abuse vary and include:

  • serial abusing in which the perpetrator seeks out and ‘grooms’ individuals. Sexual abuse sometimes falls into this pattern as do some forms of financial abuse;
  • long-term abuse in the context of an ongoing family relationship such as domestic violence between spouses or generations or persistent psychological abuse;
  • opportunistic abuse such as theft occurring because money or jewellery has been left lying around.

Spotting signs of abuse and neglect

Workers across a wide range of organisations need to be vigilant about adult safeguarding concerns in all walks of life including, those working in health and social care, welfare, policing, banking, fire and rescue services and trading standards; leisure services, faith groups, and housing. GPs, in particular, are often well-placed to notice changes in an adult that may indicate they are being abused or neglected.

Types of Abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse includes assault, hitting, slapping, pushing, misuse of medication restraint or inappropriate physical sanctions.

Indicators of physical abuse may include:

  • Any injury not fully explained by the history given
  • Injuries inconsistent with the lifestyle of the adult
  • Bruises and/or welts on face, lips, mouth, torso, arms, back, buttocks, thighs
  • Clusters of injuries forming regular patterns
  • Burns, especially on soles, palms or back: friction burns, rope or electrical appliance burns
  • Multiple fractures, bleeding, slap marks, finger marks
  • Lacerations or abrasions to mouth, lips, gums, eyes, genitalia
  • Injuries at different stages of healing
  • Medication misuse
  • Fear or emotional distress.

Domestic Abuse

The Home Office (2013) defines domestic abuse as;

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.

This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

This definition, which is not a legal definition, includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.

Sexual Abuse

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 and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into consenting.

Indicators of Sexual Abuse:

  • significant change in sexual behaviour or attitude
  • Pregnancy in a woman who is unable to consent to sexual intercourse
  • Wetting or soiling
  • Poor concentration, withdrawn. depressed or stressed
  • Unusual difficulty in walking or sitting
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
  • Bruises, bleeding, pain or itching in genital area
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract or vaginal infection, love bites
  • Bruising to thighs, upper arm,
  • self harming behavior, fear or emotional distress

Psychological Abuse

Types of psychological or emotional abuse can include

  • Enforced social isolation – preventing someone accessing services, educational and social opportunities and seeing friends
  • Removing mobility or communication aids or intentionally leaving someone unattended when they need assistance
  • Preventing someone from meeting their religious and cultural needs
  • Preventing the expression of choice and opinion. Controlling behaviour
  • Failure to respect privacy
  • Preventing stimulation, meaningful occupation or activities
  • Intimidation, coercion, harassment, use of threats, humiliation, bullying, swearing or verbal abuse
  • Addressing a person in a patronising or infantilising way
  • Threats of harm or abandonment
  • Cyber bullying
  • Blaming
  • Verbal abuse

Possible indicators of psychological or emotional abuse

  • An air of silence when a particular person is present
  • Withdrawal or change in the psychological state of the person
  • Insomnia
  • Low self-esteem
  • Uncooperative and aggressive behaviour
  • A change of appetite, weight loss/gain
  • Signs of distress: tearfulness, anger
  • Apparent false claims, by someone involved with the person, to attract unnecessary treatment

Financial or Material Abuse

Financial or material abuse includes theft, fraud, internet scamming, coercion in relation to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements, in connection with wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.

Indicators of financial or material abuse may include:

  • Change in living conditions
  • lack of heating, clothing or food
  • Inability to pay bills or unexplained shortage or money
  • Unexplained withdrawals from an account
  • Unexplained loss or misplacement of financial documents
  • The recent addition of authorised signatories on a client’s signature card
  • Sudden or unexpected changes in a will or other financial documents

Modern Slavery

Modern slavery exists in the UK and destroys lives. Men, women and children – UK nationals and those from abroad – are exploited in the sex industry, through forced labour, domestic servitude in the home and forced criminal activity. These types of crime are often called human trafficking.

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.

Indicators of Modern Slavery:

  • Victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished, unkempt, withdrawn
  • May seem under control of others, not travel alon, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with the neighbourhood
  • May be living in dirty cramped conditions
  • May have no identification documents, few personal possessions, wear the same clothes everyday
  • May have to be dropped of or picked up for work on a regular basis either very early or late at night
  • May appear frightened or hesitant to talk, avoid eye contact

Government guidance on  Victims of Modern Slavery is designed to help staff identify and help potential victims of modern slavery (including human trafficking) in England and Wales. It reflects relevant provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. If staff suspect a person is a potential victim of modern slavery due to human trafficking in any part of the UK (or slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour in cases identified in England or Wales) they must consider a referral into the national referral mechanism (NRM). Under the NRM, a trained specialist in a designated competent authority will investigate the matter further.

Discriminatory Abuse

Discriminatory abuse includes forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment; because of race, gender and gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion.

Indicators of discriminatory abuse:

  • Lack of respect shown to an individual
  • Signs of a sub-standard service
  • Repeated exclusion from rights afforded to citizens such as health, education, employment and criminal justice
  • Failure to follow aspects of a person’s agreed support or care plan that reflects their individual identity

Further information on discrimination can be found here

Organisational Abuse

Organisational abuse is neglect and poor care practice within an institution or specific care setting such as a hospital or care home, for example, or in relation to care provided in one’s own home. This may range from one off incidents to on-going ill-treatment. It can be through neglect or poor professional practice as a result of the structure, policies, processes and practices within an organisation.


Indicators of organisational abuse include:

  • Misuse of medication / inappropriate restraint methods
  • Sensory deprivation e.g. denial of use of spectacles, hearing aids / denial of visitors or phone calls
  • Restricted access to toilet or bathing facilities, medical or social care, lack of clothing or possessions
  • Controlling relationships between staff and service users
  • Poor professional practice, poor communication and recording of essential care information
  • Lack of respect shown to person
  • Failure to ensure privacy, personal dignity
  • Lack of flexibility and choice
  • Insufficient account taken of views of adult, relatives or carers
  • Significant numbers of low level concerns

Neglect and Self-Neglect

Neglect and acts of omission include ignoring medical, emotional or physical care needs, failure to provide access to appropriate health, care and support or educational services, the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating

Indicators of neglect include:

  • Physical condition of person is poor e.g. bed sores, unwashed, ulcers, personal hygiene
  • Clothing in poor condition e.g. unclean, wet, ragged
  • Inadequate physical environment, inadequate protection from sun, inadequate heating
  • Malnutrition, dehydration, inadequate diet
  • Untreated injures or medical problems
  • Inconsistent or reluctant contact with health or social care agencies
  • Failure to engage in social interaction / give prescribed medication

Self Neglect covers a wide range of behaviour neglecting to care for one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding.

Indicators of self neglect include:

  • Living in a very unclean environment e.g. rodent infested or blocked toilet
  • Neglecting household maintenance
  • Having eccentric behaviour or lifestyles such as obsessive hoarding
  • Poor diet and nutrition, little or no fresh food in fridge, mouldy or out of date food
  • Refusing necessary help from health or social care staff in relation to personal hygiene and care
  • Having poor personal hygiene, poor health, sores or long toe nails

Radicalisation and Extremism


Here are examples of indicators that may suggest vulnerability to violent extremism:

  • Expressed opinions – such as support for violence and terrorism or the values of extremist organisations, airing of political or religious based grievances, unaccepting of other nationalities, religions or cultures.
  • Material – possession of extremist literature; attempts to access extremist websites and associated password protected chat rooms; possession of material regarding weapons, explosives or military training
  • Behaviour and behavioural changes – such as withdrawal from family and peers; hostility towards former associates and family; association with proscribed* organisations and those that hold extremist views (Under the Terrorism Act 2000 the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe – forbid by law – an organisation believed to be concerned in terrorism. Details of each organisation proscribed by the UK government can be viewed here)
  • Personal history – Claims or evidence of involvement in organisations voicing violent extremist ideology and identifying with their cause.

Prevent Duty

Prevent is a distinct part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST which focusses on early intervention through strategies which reduce the likelihood of individuals supporting a violent or extremist ideology or becoming terrorists.  Prevent applies to all forms of extremism, including far right extremism and can impact all communities regardless of faith or background.

The Government defines extremism as vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.  The Government also includes in its definition of extremism, calls for the death of members of our armed forces.

Prevent is not about catching terrorists, it is about identifying people who are, or may be at risk of radicalisation, and supporting them to change direction in a way that will help them.

Peterborough is a safe city and the risk of a terrorist incident is very low. The vast majority of people, in all communities, need no convincing that terrorism is wrong and want to see it prevented.  People from all communities want to play their part in helping to make that happen.  We all have a role in ensuring that our communities are kept safe and that individuals who may be at risk of radicalisation can be provided with the help and support they need.

The purpose of Prevent is to enlist the support of people in our communities to reach the much smaller minority who may be drawn into terrorism, often through extremist views.

The Prevent strategy has three main objectives:

  • Ideology – to respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it.
  • Individuals –  to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support.
  • Institutions – to work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation that we need to address.

Where to go for help

If you are concerned about anyone who might be at risk of becoming radicalised, or if you are worried about someone travelling to, or returning from Syria, then you should speak to the police on 101.  In an emergency, or to report a suspected terrorist incident, call the police on 999.

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