Abuse: Vulnerable adults and common signs

SOVA - Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults

Everyone has a right to live an abuse free life, regardless of age, gender, race, or mental capacity. Normally, every adult will demand and fight for this right. But for vulnerable adults, due to their advanced age and intellectual impairments, cannot make such demands and hence, stand the risk of being abused.

What makes it worse is the inability of these adults to even identify abuse or to report it. Individuals with cognitive impairment may not be aware that they are being abused, while those with communication difficulties will find it difficult to express themselves. In some cases, the abusers prevent access to these people, making it even more difficult for help to reach them.

In scenarios where the abused individual cannot report abuse, the authorities, family or friends can only look out for tell-tale signs of abuse.

The presence of any of the under listed signs does not necessarily prove abuse, but it should alert concerned parties to make further inquiries and investigations. Below are seven of the most common abuses that is meted on vulnerable adults and the signs that can be looked out for to identify abuse;

1.Physical abuse:

Physical abuse is about the most popular of all forms of abuse meted on vulnerable adults. Physical abuse can take many forms including; hitting, slapping, forceful feeding, involuntary isolation, hair pulling, scalding or burning, improper medication etc.

The possible signs of physical abuse include; no explanation for injuries, malnutrition, frequent injuries, injuries that are not consistent with the person’s lifestyle, changed or subdued behavior in the presence of certain people, burns, bruises, cuts or loss of large amount of hair.


  1. Sexual abuse:

Sexual abuse refers to an unsolicited sexual approach from one person to another. Sexual abuse is also one of the abuses meted on vulnerable adults.

Types of sexual abuse include; rape, attempted rape, inappropriate touching, sexual teasing, inappropriate dressing, non-consensual masturbation, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.

The possible signs of sexual abuse include; bruising on the thigh, upper arm or neck, bloody or stained underclothing, unusual difficulty in sitting or walking, pain or swelling in the genital area, sexual transmitted diseases or unexplained discharge from genitals, unusual behavior towards a particular person, poor concentration, sleep disturbances, unusual substances around genital area, pregnancy in females that cannot consent to intercourse.


  1. Psychological abuse:

Psychological abuse is any act or behavior by one person that causes psychological trauma on another. This psychological trauma includes; anxiety and depression. Psychological abuse diminishes the sense of a person’s worth or self-esteem. Psychological abuse is also called emotional abuse.

Type of physiological or emotional abuse includes; threat of harm, threat of abandonment, intimidation, name calling, mocking, preventing the expression of opinion and choice, bullying, purposefully leaving a person unattended when they need help, preventing the individual from socializing with friends or fulfilling religious or cultural goals, complaining too much about an individual etc.

The possible signs of emotional abuse include; low self-esteem, inability to sleep, lack of appetite, weight loss, unusual behavior particularly silence when certain persons come into a room, signs of depression, withdrawal, aggressive behavior etc.


  1. Financial and material abuse:

This is an act of depriving a vulnerable individual of financial and material assistance. It could also mean an unauthorized use of a vulnerable individual’s property for selfish purposes.

Types of financial and material abuse includes; theft of money, fraud, scam, coercing or forcing a vulnerable individual into relinquishing their money or possession, refusal to pay for the welfare of a vulnerable individual, providing less care than is needed for the sake of personal gain, preventing a vulnerable person from accessing their own money, misuse of power of attorney, false representation of person’s bank account etc.

The possible signs of financial abuse includes; missing money or personal possession, unexplained deductions in vulnerable individual’s account, unusual family interest in the properties of vulnerable persons, recent changes in the title of property, uncooperative actions by the manager of vulnerable person’s property and funds, a disparity between the vulnerable person’s resources and their financial resources etc.


  1. Modern slavery:

Slavery didn’t come to an end in the 19th Century, it was simply repackaged. Currently, close to 40 million people are caught in the throngs of contemporary slavery. Vulnerable adults are also not left out of this ugly development.

Types of modern slavery meted on vulnerable adults include; domestic servitude, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labor, debt bondage etc.

The possible signs of contemporary slavery include; malnourished appearance, lack of personal properties, bruises, cuts, unwanted pregnancies or babies without fathers, low self-esteem, fear, and symptoms of emotional abuse.


  1. Institutional or organisation abuse:

This is a kind of abuse meted by an institution or organisation, particularly one in a position of trust and possibly responsible for the care and welfare of the individuals that they abuse.

Types of institutional abuse include; preventing or discouraging visits by relatives, putting vulnerable individuals in crowded and uncomfortable lodgings, inadequate management of the institution, poor supervision, inadequate and improper medication, depriving an individual of quality food, lack of assistance while eating, failure to address abuses and complaints.

The possible signs of institutional abuse include; inadequate staffing, malnutrition, poor standard of care, lack of social visits, lack of proper procedures, the absence of managerial supervision, unkempt and improper appearance etc.


  1. Domestic abuse:

Domestic abuse comes in varying forms, it could be psychological, physical, emotional and financial. Some of its practices include honor based violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, harming, punishing, controlling aggressively, exploitation, stopping the individual from accessing help etc.

The possible signs of domestic abuse include; isolation, lack of self-esteem, humiliation in public, damage to property etc.

These are seven of the most popular abuses that vulnerable adults are exposed to and the signs to look out for. Once a case of abuse is noticed, it is imperative that a report is made to the appropriate authorities to take the necessary actions. Actions could be a jail time for abusers or the option of fine. The abused individual is most likely going to be withdrawn from their care and placed in a more secure environment.

Tutorcare offer specialist online courses to organisations and individuals.  For more information click here – Safeguarding Vulnerable Adult Awareness Course

Other resourses:


Adult Safeguarding – UK.GOV statement

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