Abusers will often use a variety of ways to control and exert power over their victims.
For example, perpetrators of domestic abuse will frequently use physical, emotional, sexual and financial methods to control their partners.
Similarly, care workers who neglect and emotionally abuse their elderly clients are potentially also capable of physical threats and even violence.
Physical abuse involves the perpetrator inflicting unnecessary physical pain, suffering or injury on the other person.
This might be striking or slapping someone, pulling their hair, restraining someone inappropriately or sedating someone so they are easier to care for.
Assault is a criminal offence.
Sexual abuse occurs when someone is unwilling or unable to give informed consent to the sexual activity they are being asked or forced to get part in.
The sexual activity may at first appear to be consensual; however, differences in power and influence can make it very difficult for the victim to say ‘no’ to the abuser. Incest and forced prostitution are forms of sexual abuse.
Any sexual activity where one adult does not freely consent is a criminal offence.
Emotional or psychological abuse
Emotional abuse takes place when someone inflicts mental suffering on a person who might reasonably expect to trust them.
Emotional abuse may include bullying (including cyberbullying), name-calling and threats and harassment. It can also involve forcing someone to do something against their wishes.
This kind of abuse is often difficult to detect because it can be very subtle, e.g. continually ignoring or excluding someone, and the emotional damage can build up over a long period.
Harassment is a criminal offence.
Neglect occurs when somebody in whom others have an expectation of trust, e.g. a care worker or nurse, fails to provide the level of care which a reasonable person would expect.
In practice, this might mean making sure someone is helped to eat and drink regularly, or has their wet sheets changed.
Sometimes, neglect can be unintentional – perhaps due to lack of knowledge or training.
If the risk should reasonably be known, the neglect may be considered criminal.
Financial abuse can be harder to detect, because it sometimes starts with a genuine wish to help someone with their finances.
The abuse may involve outright theft but can also be more subtle, like the abuser asking for a loan which they do not intend to pay back or insisting the person invests in their business.
Financial abusers may exploit power differences, frequently giving their victims little option but to relent to their demands.
If you suspect theft or fraud has been committed, contact the police on 101.
Safeguarding people from abuse
If you suspect someone is being abused – or you think you are being abused – you must tell someone immediately.
Contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team. In an emergency, call 999.