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The Main Types of Abuse: Definitions, Signs and Symptoms


This page is designed to answer the following questions:

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The Care Act 2014 identifies 10 types of abuse or neglect.


It is important that you understand what they are and the associated signs that may indicate they are occurring so that you can report suspicions of abuse using the appropriate channels.

The table below describes the main types of abuse along with their associated signs and/or symptoms:

Type of abuseDefinitionSigns/symptoms
Physical abusePhysical harm to an individual's body from, for example, hitting, restrictive practices and medicationUntreated or unexplained injuries including cut, bruises, burns, bites, hair loss etc.
Domestic abuseThreats, violence and abuse between individuals that are family members or in an intimate relationship.Domestic abuse can be recognised by the signs of one or more of the other types of abuse or neglect.
Sexual abuseSexual relationships or activities that an individual does not or cannot consent to.Pain or bruising around the inner thigh, anal or breast areas.
Pain/discomfort when walking or sitting.
Bloodstained underwear.
Unexplained STIs/pregnancy
Emotional/psychological abuseThreats, humiliation, controlling behaviour, blaming, verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation.Anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, poor self esteem and self confidence
Financial/material abuseUse of an individual's money or possessions without permission. Includes theft, fraud, scamming, coercion, self-serving involvement in an individual's financial affairs.Not having enough money for bills or food.
Expenditure appearing unusually high.
Missing possessions or monies.
Poor living conditions.
Modern slaveryIndividuals being forced into a life of slavery, human trafficking, domestic servitude or forced labour.Signs of other abuse (e.g. physical, psychological etc.)
Unable or unwilling to interact with others.
Seemingly always in the company of others.
Appearing to not know their surroundings.
Having no (or very few) personal possessions.
Discriminatory abuseIndividuals being treated differently due to personal traits such as age, gender, race, sexual orientation etc.Verbal abuse or harassment
Lack of person centred approaches
Institutional/organisational abuseWhen an organisation's needs are put above an individual's needs e.g. telling an individual that they have to go to bed at a certain timeInflexibility
Poor staff knowledge and training
Non person-centred approaches
Poor standards
Self-neglectAn individual being unable to see to their own basic needs, such as nutrition or hygieneMalnutrition
Dirty clothes/bedding
Poor hygiene
Taking medication incorrectly
Neglect by othersPeople responsible for an individual not seeing to their basic needs such as nutrition or hygiene either deliberately or inadvertently.Malnutrition
Dirty clothes/bedding
Poor hygiene
Taking medication incorrectly

Some individuals are unable to protect themselves from abuse, for example, someone with a learning 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. It is also important that individuals are educated about abuse and their rights so they are able to protect themselves.


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.

Example question and answer


List some of the types, signs and symptoms of abuse and explain why some individuals are more vulnerable to 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.



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