What is Abuse?

Abuse is mistreatment by any other person or persons that violates a person's human and civil rights. The abuse can vary from treating someone with disrespect in a way which significantly affects the person's quality of life, to causing actual physical suffering.

The Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014 states that: “abuse” means physical, sexual,  psychological, emotional or financial abuse  taking place in any setting, whether in a private dwelling, an institution or any other place

“neglect” means a failure to meet a person’s basic physical, emotional, social or psychological needs, which is likely to result in an impairment of the person’s well-being. 

Abuse can happen anywhere - in a residential or nursing home, a hospital, in the workplace, at a day centre or educational establishment, in supported housing, in the street or in the vulnerable adult's own home.

Forms of abuse include:

Physical abuse such as hitting, pushing, pinching, shaking, misusing medication, scalding, hair pulling

Sexual abuse such as forcing someone into unwanted sexual activity, being touched inappropriately, rape, sexual assault, or sexual acts to which the vulnerable adult has not or could not have consented, or to which they were pressurised into consenting

Psychological or emotional abuse such as intimidation, being threatened, being ignored on purpose, humiliation, blaming, controlling, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, being prevented from friends or family visiting or being prevented from receiving services or support.

Financial abuse such as stealing someone's money or spending it on the wrong things, putting pressure on someone to make changes to their will or spend their money against their wishes, fraud or exploitation, pressure in connection with property, inheritence, misuse of property, possessions or benefits.

Neglect such as ignoring medical or physical care needs, preventing access to health, social care or educational services, not caring for someone properly, not providing adequate food, putting them at risk.

Any of these forms of abuse can be either deliberate or be the result of ignorance, or lack of training, knowledge or understanding. It is often the case that a person is being abused in more than one way.

Abuse always falls into one of the five categories above but other forms of abuse can include:

Modern Slavery (formerly known as Human Trafficking)

Modern Slavery is a hidden, widespread, international crime. Criminals exploit vulnerable individuals by deceiving, forcing and pressuring them into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment. Poverty, limited opportunities in their home country, lack of education, unstable social and political conditions, economic imbalances and war are the key driving forces that contribute to the trafficking of victims into and through the UK.

Human Trafficking in the simplest terms, is the movement of a person from one place to another into conditions of exploitation, using deception, coercion, the abuse of power or the abuse of someone’s vulnerability. Despite being outlawed in the early 1800’s, this exploitation through slavery has continued and grown.

Forced Marriage 

Forced Marriage is defined as a marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties, where one or both spouses do not (or, in the case of some vulnerable adults, cannot) consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.

Discrimination and Hate Crime

Discrimination and hate crime may be features of any form of abuse of a vulnerable adult but can also be motivated because of their age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, class, culture, language, race or ethnic origin.

Institutional abuse

Institutional abuse can occur in institutions as a result of regimes, routines, practices and behaviours that occur in services that vulnerable adults live in or use and which violate their human rights

Who might be causing the abuse?

The person who is responsible for the abuse is very often well known to the person abused and could be :

  • a paid carer or volunteer
  • a health worker, social care or other worker
  • a relative, partner, friend or neighbour
  • another resident or service user
  • an occasional visitor or someone who is providing a service (such as a mobile hairdresser)
  • people who deliberately exploit vulnerable people
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