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What is abuse and neglect, and why does it matter?

One or more sections on this page provide access to easy-read information - look out for this logo.

Abuse is a term used to describe the mistreatment of people. These pages are about abuse of people who are over 18. If you are concerned about a child's welfare, please contact children's social services or the Police.

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.

Examples of abuse

Some examples include:

  • Physical abuse - including assault, hitting, slapping, pushing, pinching, shaking, misusing medication, scalding, restraint, hair pulling, or inappropriate physical sanctions
    Domestic abuse - including psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional abuse; so called 'honour' based violence
  • Sexual abuse - including 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.
  • Psychological abuse - including emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, cyber bullying, isolation or unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or supportive networks.
  • Financial or material abuse - including theft, fraud, internet scamming, coercion in relation to an adult's financial affairs or arrangements, including in connection with wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.
  • Controlling behaviour - depriving you of social contact, or stopping you from getting services or support
  • Neglect - ignoring your medical or physical care needs, preventing access to care or education, withholding food, drink or heating
  • Modern slavery - encompasses slavery, human trafficking, forced 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 - including forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment; because of race, gender and gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion.
  • Organisational abuse - including 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.
  • Neglect and acts of omission - including 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
  • Self-neglect - this covers a wide range of behaviour neglecting to care for one's personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding

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 page What to do if you think someone is at risk of being abused for advice and details on whom to contact.

Other information and advice

The Action on Elder Abuse organisation, who campaign specifically about abuse of older people, provide detailed information on the different types of abuse and how to spot when this is happening.

Our colleagues at Suffolk County Council have produced an excellent video which explains more about abuse and neglect, and may be particularly helpful for people with learning disabilities or dementia.

The Easy Health website has gathered together various  easy-read leaflets and videoswhich will help people with learning disabilities to understand what abuse is, and to know what to do if they think they are being subjected to abuse.

Last updated: 19/07/2021