Home 9 What is abuse?

What is abuse?

Abuse is a violation of a person’s human and civil rights by any other person, and it comes in many forms. The effects of it may be short or long term, and they often damage an individual’s health and wellbeing. Find out more about who is at risk, where is takes place and who carries it out. Please also see our page on types of abuse.
The signs of abuse aren’t always obvious, and the person being abused may not tell anyone what is happening to them – sometimes they may not even be aware they are being abused.

Who is at risk?

Adults can be vulnerable to abuse and neglect, especially if they have care and support needs. An adult at risk may be someone over the age of 18 years old who:
  • is old and frail due to ill health, physical disability or cognitive impairment
  • has a learning disability
  • has a physical disability or a sensory impairment
  • has mental health needs including dementia or a personality disorder
  • has a long term illness or condition
  • misuses substances or alcohol
  • is a carer such as a family member or friend who provides personal assistance and care to adults and is subject to abuse
  • is unable to demonstrate the capacity to make a decision and is in need of care and support

Who carries out abuse?

It is important to remember that anyone can carry out abuse or neglect, including:
  • partners
  • family, friends or neighbours
  • another adult at risk
  • professionals, volunteers and people paid to provide care services
  • strangers
  • colleagues
  • a manager
  • a member of a place of worship
Most people who commit abuse are known to the adult at risk. However, some people will deliberately exploit or harm individuals who they see as easy targets.

Where does abuse take place?

Abuse can take place in any setting, including:
  • a person’s own home
  • a friend or relative’s home
  • in hospital
  • at a care home
  • at a day service
  • at an educational establishment
  • in a public place
  • in a community setting