What is abuse and neglect?

Abuse is mistreatment 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.

Abuse can be:

  • physical (for example hitting, pushing, shaking, misusing medication)
  • sexual (for example rape, sexual assault)
  • domestic (for example controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, 'honour' based violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage) 
  • emotional or psychological (for example threats of harm or abandonment, humiliation, controlling, intimidation)
  • financial or material (for example theft, fraud, misuse, pressure in connection with wills of property or possessions) 
  • neglectful (for example ignoring medical or physical care needs)
  • self-neglectful (for example neglecting to care for one's personal hygiene or health)
  • discriminatory (for example abuse based on race, sexuality or a person's disability)
  • modern slavery (for example forced labour, debt bondage, sexual exploitation) 
  • organisational abuse (for example abuse taking place in residential/nursing homes or hospitals).

Abuse can happen anywhere, examples include:

  • in a residential or nursing home
  • in a hospital
  • in the workplace
  • at a day centre or educational establishment
  • in supported housing
  • in the street or in the person's own home.

Who is at risk?

An adult at risk is someone who:

  • has needs for care and support
  • is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect
  • as a result of those care and support needs is unable to protect themselves from either the risk of, or the experience of abuse or neglect.

The adult's care and support needs should arise from, or be related to a physical or mental impairment or illness however, they do not need to meet the minimum eligibility criteria as set out in Chapter 6 of the Care and Support Statutory Guidance, issued under the Care Act 2014.

Reporting abuse or neglect

Find out how to report abuse or neglect.

If you have reported adult abuse, read our factsheet about how your adult safeguarding concern will be dealt with.

More information 

Read our leaflet about adult abuse

Read our factsheet about the Mental Capacity Act 'making decisions: what happens if you can't'.

Download our awareness posters:

What is safeguarding - version 1 [PDF]
What is safeguarding - version 2 [PDF]
What is safeguarding - version 3 [PDF]
Self neglect - version 1 [PDF]
Self neglect - version 2 [PDF]
Making safeguarding personal [PDF]
Financial abuse [PDF]

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