Home 9 Types of abuse

Types of abuse

Find out more about each type of abuse, how it might happen, and what signs you might spot if you think someone is experiencing abuse.

Physical abuse

Deliberately hurting an adult, causing injuries such as bruises, broken bones, burns or cuts, or otherwise causing harm. It could also be when a carer makes up the symptoms of, or deliberately brings on an illness, or misuses medication.

Types of physical abuse include:

  • assault, hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, hair-pulling, biting, pushing
  • rough handling
  • scalding and burning
  • physical punishments
  • inappropriate or unlawful use of restraint
  • making someone purposefully uncomfortable such as opening a window and removing blankets
  • involuntary isolation or confinement
  • misuse of medication such as over-sedation
  • forcible feeding or withholding food
  • unauthorised restraint that restricts movement such as tying someone to a chair

Possible signs of physical abuse to look out for include:

  • multiple bruising
  • fractures
  • injuries in places not normally exposed to falls or rough games
  • burns
  • bed sores
  • fear
  • depression
  • unexplained weight loss
  • assault –intentional or reckless
  • failure to seek medical treatment, or a pattern of visiting different hospitals or doctors over a short period of time.

Domestic abuse

Signs of domestic abuse can also relate to psychological, physical, sexual, financial, economic or emotional abuse.

Domestic abuse includes 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.

It also includes so called ‘honour’-based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Signs of domestic abuse include:

  • low self-esteem
  • 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

Controlling or coercive behaviour

Coercive or controlling behaviour is a core part of domestic abuse.

A pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour can be well established before a single incident is ever reported to support services. In many cases the conduct of the perpetrator might seem innocent – especially if considered in isolation of other incidents – and the victim may not be aware of, or be ready to acknowledge, abusive behaviour.

Relevant behaviours to be aware of can include:

  • isolating a person from their friends and family
  • depriving them of their basic needs
  • monitoring their time
  • monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware
  • taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep
  • depriving them access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services
  • repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless
  • enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim
  • forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities
  • financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance
  • control ability to go to school or place of study
  • taking wages, benefits or allowances
  • threats to hurt or kill
  • threats to harm a child
  • threats to reveal or publish private information for instance threatening to ‘out’ someone
  • threats to hurt or physically harming a family pet
  • assault
  • criminal damage such as destruction of household goods
  • preventing a person from having access to transport or from working
  • preventing a person from being able to attend school, college or University
  • family ‘dishonour’
  • reputational damage
  • disclosure of sexual orientation
  • disclosure of HIV status or other medical condition without consent
  • limiting access to family, friends and finances

This is not an exhaustive list, and you should be aware that a perpetrator will often tailor the conduct to the victim, and that this conduct can vary to a high degree from one person to the next.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is any sexual activity where a person has been forced or persuaded to take part or doesn’t understand. It includes:

  • rape, attempted rape or sexual assault
  • inappropriate touching anywhere on the body
  • non-consensual masturbation of either or both persons
  • non-consensual sexual penetration or attempted penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth
  • any sexual activity that the person lacks the capacity to consent to
  • inappropriate looking, sexual teasing or innuendo or sexual harassment
  • sexual photography or forced use of pornography or witnessing of sexual acts
  • indecent exposure

Signs of sexual abuse can include:

  • bruising, particularly to the thighs, buttocks and upper arms and marks on the neck
  • torn, stained or bloody underclothing
  • bleeding, pain or itching in the genital area
  • repeated urine infections or unexplained stomach pains, soreness or bruising around the genitals, sexually transmitted infections, unplanned, concealed or denied pregnancies
  • uncharacteristic use of explicit sexual language or significant changes in sexual behaviour or attitude
  • self-harming
  • 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

Psychological or emotional abuse

Types of psychological or emotional abuse 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
  • 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
  • cyberbullying

Possible signs of psychological or emotional abuse include:

  • 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 or gain
  • signs of distress: tearfulness, anger
  • apparent false claims, by someone involved with the person, to attract unnecessary treatment

Financial abuse

Financial abuse is the theft or misuse of money, property or personal belongings, taken without consent or under pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance.

Types of financial abuse include:

  • theft of money or possessions
  • fraud and scamming
  • preventing a person from accessing their own money, benefits or assets
  • employees taking a loan from a person using the service
  • undue pressure, threat or influence put on the person in connection with loans, wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions
  • arranging less care than is needed to save money to maximise inheritance
  • denying assistance to manage or monitor financial affairs, or give access to benefits
  • misuse of personal allowance in a care home
  • misuse of benefits or direct payments in a family home
  • someone moving into a person’s home and living rent free without agreement or under duress
  • false representation, using another person’s bank account, cards or documents
  • exploitation of a person’s money or assets or the unauthorised use of a car
  • misuse of a power of attorney, deputy, appointee-ship or other legal authority
  • Rogue trading such as unnecessary or overpriced property repairs and failure to carry out agreed repairs or poor workmanship

Possible signs of financial abuse include:

  • missing personal possessions
  • unexplained lack of money or inability to maintain lifestyle
  • 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
  • failure to register an LPA after the person has ceased to have mental capacity to manage their finances, so that it appears that they are continuing to do so
  • the person allocated to manage financial affairs is evasive or uncooperative
  • 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 or power of attorney
  • recent changes in deeds or title to property
  • rent arrears and eviction notices
  • a lack of clear financial accounts held by a care home or service
  • failure to provide receipts for shopping or other financial transactions carried out on behalf of the person
  • disparity between the person’s living conditions and their financial resources, e.g. insufficient food in the house
  • unnecessary property repairs

Discriminatory abuse

Types of discriminatory abuse include:

  • unequal treatment based on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex or sexual orientation known as
  • verbal abuse, derogatory remarks or inappropriate use of language related to a protected characteristic
  • denying access to communication aids, not allowing access to an interpreter, signer or lip-reader
  • harassment or deliberate exclusion on the grounds of a protected characteristic
  • denying basic rights to healthcare, education, employment and criminal justice relating to a protected characteristic
  • substandard service provision relating to a protected characteristic

Possible signs of discriminatory abuse include:

  • the person appears 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

Organisational abuse


Types of organisational abuse include:

  • discouraging visits or the involvement of relatives or friends
  • run-down or overcrowded establishment
  • authoritarian management or rigid regimes
  • lack of leadership and supervision
  • insufficient staff or high turnover resulting in poor quality care
  • abusive and disrespectful attitudes towards people using the service
  • inappropriate use of restraints
  • lack of respect for dignity and privacy
  • failure to manage residents with abusive behaviour
  • not providing adequate food and drink, or assistance with eating
  • not offering choice or promoting independence
  • misuse of medication
  • failure to provide care with dentures, spectacles or hearing aids
  • not taking account of individual’s cultural, religious or ethnic needs
  • failure to respond to abuse appropriately
  • interference with personal correspondence or communication
  • failure to respond to complaints

Possible indicators of organisational abuse include:

  • lack of flexibility and choice for people using the service
  • inadequate staffing levels
  • people being hungry or dehydrated
  • poor standards of care
  • lack of personal clothing and possessions and communal use of personal items
  • lack of adequate procedures
  • 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

Neglect and acts of omission

Neglect is the ongoing failure to meet basic needs. The individual may be left hungry or dirty, without adequate clothing, shelter, supervision, medical or healthcare, and access to aids or equipment. They may not get the love, care and attention they need from their family or carers.

Types of neglect and acts of omission include:

  • failure to provide or allow access to food, shelter, clothing, heating, stimulation and activity, personal or medical care
  • providing care in a way that the person dislikes
  • failure to administer medication as prescribed
  • refusal of access to visitors
  • not taking account of individuals’ cultural, religious or ethnic needs
  • not taking account of educational, social and recreational needs
  • ignoring or isolating the person
  • preventing the person from making their own decisions
  • preventing access to glasses, hearing aids, dentures, etc.
  • failure to ensure privacy and dignity

Possible signs of neglect and acts of omission include:

  • 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


Self-neglect is the lack of self-care, lack of care for one’s environment, and/or the refusal of services, to an extent that it threatens personal health and safety.

Types of self-neglect include:

  • lack of self-care to an extent that it threatens personal health and safety
  • neglecting to care for one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings
  • Inability to avoid self-harm
  • Failure to seek help or access services to meet health and social care needs
  • Inability or unwillingness to manage one’s personal affairs

Signs of self-neglect include:

  • 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
  • hoarding
  • 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

Modern slavery

Modern Slavery is where an individual is exploited, forced to work, or sold.  It involves the recruitment and movement of individuals using threats, deception and coercion for the purpose of exploitation. Modern Slavery can take many forms:

Types of modern slavery include:

  • human trafficking
  • forced labour
  • domestic servitude
  • sexual exploitation, such as escort work, prostitution and pornography
  • debt bondage – being forced to work to pay off debts that realistically they never will be able to

Possible indicators of modern slavery include:

  • 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