Close up dictionary definition of 'abuse'

Types, Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

It is important to understand the different types of abuse so that you can spot the signs that it may be taking place and protect an individual from further abuse. The table below explains types of abuse and their symptoms.

Physical abusePhysical abuse occurs when an abuser makes physical contact with an individual with the intention of causing physical pain or injury. Bruises, burns, fractures, lacerations, sores, cowering & flinching
Sexual abuseSexual abuse is when an abuser forces or tricks an individual into a non-consensual sexual behaviour. Although this can include penetration, it doesn’t have to – touching and showing pornography material are also classed as sexual abuse.Genital & anal infections and bleeding, torn, soiled or bloodied underwear, change in character
Emotional/psychological abuseEmotional abuse is when an abuser subjects an individual to behaviours that can result in psychological trauma. Verbal aggression, bullying and domination are examples of emotional abuse.Depression, anxiety, isolation, fear, agitation, self-mutilation, low self-esteem & self-confidence.
Financial abuseFinancial abuse is when an abuser attempts to steal from or defraud an individual. This can extend to tricking an individual into giving away money or property and preventing an individual from making their own financial decisions. Missing money/property, unexplained bank withdrawals, isolation from friends/family, fear, anxiety, embarrassment.
Institutional abuseInstitutional abuse occurs when the convenience of an institution and its staff are put before the needs and lifestyles of an individual. This can include over-medication,  unreasonable restrictions of activity, lack of privacy etc.Staff entering service users rooms without knocking, lack of food, clothing & possessions, lack of flexibility with bedtimes, mealtimes etc.,  poorly trained & unsupervised staff, poorly managed setting
Self-neglectSelf-neglect is when an individual does not attend to their basic needs, such as washing, eating and clothing.Poor personal hygiene, malnutrition, inappropriate or dirty clothing, not taking medication.
Neglect by othersNeglect occurs when a carer either deliberately or unintentionally fails to provide adequate care to an individual.Bedsores, inappropriate or dirty clothing, hunger, unwashed.


NOTE: The signs and symptoms above are by no means exhaustive and will vary between individuals.

Some individuals are unable to protect themselves from abuse, for example someone with a mental disability may not have the capacity to understand that they are being abused, so it is vital that others, such as family or support staff are there to look out for their well-being. In addition, there are many factors that make an individual more vulnerable to abuse. Again, reduced mental capacity can lead to an individual being taken advantage of as can low self-esteem, depression and other mental illnesses such as paranoid schizophrenia. Some factors can also be directly related to the abuser, for example, if they have been abused themselves, if they are stressed out with their own personal problems or if they have a lack of training. And, of course, if an individual is isolated and has no-one to protect them, they are also much more susceptible to being abused.