Last updated: 01.03.23

The Ten Types of Abuse You Should Be Aware Of

Abuse is most commonly understood as a pattern of behaviour intended to establish and maintain control over family or household members, intimate partners, colleagues, individuals or groups. No matter the age, gender, socioeconomic status, education or ethnicity, it is important to recognise that anyone can become a victim of abuse. 

Whilst it is not always easy to identify if abuse is occurring, having an understanding of the categories and the indicators means that earlier safeguarding intervention can be applied. In this article, we’re going to take a look at each of the ten types of abuse and describe some of the indicators of these kinds of abuse in more detail.

What Are the 10 Types of Abuse?


Discriminatory abuse is a kind of abuse that involves the unfair treatment of someone because of an aspect of their identity. This might involve discrimination because of:

  • Race or religion
  • Gender or gender identity
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation

Discriminatory abuse may involve other kinds of abuse as part of the discriminatory behaviour, but is categorised as such because this behaviour is motivated by a dislike of someone else’s identity. It may involve:

  • Verbal or physical abuse in public places
  • Harassment
  • Derogatory comments
  • Hate mail or trolling on social media
  • Criminal property damage
  • Denying access to aids needed for communication or mobility purposes
  • Substandard service
  • Denying access to basic rights relating to an aspect of identity

As well as witnessing any of the above behaviour, you may be able to tell that someone is suffering from this type of abuse if:

  • They become withdrawn or isolated
  • Their behaviour changes: they become angry, fearful, anxious or appear to lose their self-esteem


Psychological abuse can sometimes also be referred to as emotional abuse and is one of the main types of abuse that is dealt with in a safeguarding capacity. It involves controlling or manipulating someone with emotional tactics, such as:

  • Prevention of making choices or expressing their opinions
  • Forced social isolation; not allowing someone to see friends or access education
  • Denying access to mobility or communication aids
  • Denying access to cultural or religious practices and services
  • Prevention of accessing medical services
  • Not respecting privacy
  • Use of threats, fear or bribes
  • Belittling, patronising or infantilising behaviour
  • Cyberbullying
  • Intimidation, humiliation, bullying, threats or harassment
  • Verbal abuse

This type of abuse may be more difficult to spot at first as the impact that it has on someone tends not to show straight away. Psychological abuse can take place in a range of relationships and may cause the person being abused to believe that this behaviour is normal, which again makes it harder to identify. 

Some of the key indicators of this kind of abuse may include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Change in behaviour around their abuser
  • Change in behaviour – becoming uncooperative, aggressive, tearful, angry, withdrawn
  • Change in appetite – unusual weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia
  • False beliefs triggered by the emotional abuse

Financial or Material

Financial abuse, which can also be referred to as material or economic abuse, involves having money or possessions stolen, being put under pressure to make certain decisions with your money or property, being defrauded or having your money and/or property misused.

This form of abuse can include:

  • Theft of possessions, money or misuse of benefits
  • Fraud
  • Scams – internet, cold callers, rogue traders
  • Misuse of power of attorney or other legal authority or coercion in relation to financial affairs
  • False use of another person’s bank account

Financial abuse can be very difficult to detect and may happen in tandem with other kinds of abuse. It can happen to anyone, but may be seen more in cases where there is an unequal balance of power in a relationship, impacting those that are old, unwell, disabled, or already being abused.

Indicators of economic abuse may include:

  • Inability to pay bills or financial hardship
  • Unaccounted withdrawal of money from bank accounts
  • Sudden change in wills or deeds to a house or property
  • Power of attorney being obtained after someone has lost mental capacity
  • Personal items going missing
  • Lack of receipts when purchases are made ‘on behalf’ of another person
  • Unnecessary property repairs or purchases
  • Unusual interest in the person’s assets from other people
  • Unclear financial accounts held by a care home or business
  • Clear differences in someone’s financial situation and living conditions


Organisational abuse, also known as institutional abuse, may occur in residential and nursing homes, hospitals, day care centres or sheltered housing. It involves the people in these institutions abusing the people that are meant to be in their care, and may involve any of the other types and signs of abuse mentioned in this article.

Organisation abuse can include:

  • Lack of care, neglect and respect for dignity and privacy
  • Poor professional practice due to inadequate structures, policies and procedures
  • Abuse or disrespect of those using the service
  • Overcrowded and disorganised institutions
  • Unnecessarily rigid regimes
  • A lack of clear leadership
  • High staff turnover creating instability
  • Discouragement of visitors
  • Inadequate provision of food and drink, including assistance with eating
  • Misuse of medication
  • A lack of independence and choice for residents
  • A lack of respect for individual cultural and religious needs
  • Failure to respond to complaints
  • Limiting or controlling resident communication

Some of the key indicators that organisational abuse may be taking place are:

  • A lack of personal belongs and clothing
  • Poor care standards
  • Rigid routines with no option of flexibility
  • Unnecessary medical procedures, such as catheterisation
  • Loss of weight, hunger or dehydration in residents
  • Inadequate care plans and care standards
  • A lack of visitors
  • A lack of recreational activities


Neglect is one of the most common types of abuse in children. It happens when a caregiver does not meet the needs of a person who they are responsible for and that cannot take care of themself. It may be done intentionally or unintentionally and can occur between parents and children, vulnerable adults and their carers or medical professionals and their patients.

There are many different kinds of relationships involving caregiving responsibilities, meaning that neglect may involve any of the following things:

  • Absence of emotional, physical or medical health care
  • Providing care that a person doesn’t like or tries to refuse
  • Withholding basic necessities such as nutrition, heating and medication
  • Preventing the person from making decisions
  • Preventing access to aids such as glasses, hearing aids and mobility devices
  • Refusing visitors
  • Limiting social interactions or isolating the person
  • Failing to respect privacy and dignity 

Neglect is a type of abuse that can be identified both in a person’s appearance and condition or in their home or care environment. Signs of this kind of abuse may involve:

  • An unkempt or dirty environment
  • Malnutrition
  • Untreated injuries
  • Lack of basic necessities like food, heating, lighting and adequate clothing
  • Isolation
  • Lack of social engagement
  • Poor physical condition or personal hygiene
  • Pressure sores or ulcers
  • Untaken medication


Physical abuse is another of the main types of abuse that is covered in safeguarding training. It consists of the purposeful hurting of another person, sometimes in an explicit manner and sometimes in a way that makes the impact of this abuse difficult to see.

Behaviour associated with physical abuse can include:

  • Assault – hitting, slapping, kicking, pinching, punching
  • Scalding or burning
  • Physical punishments
  • Force feeding or lack of feeding
  • Inappropriate use of restraint or restricting movement
  • Misuse of medication
  • Involuntary isolation
  • Purposefully making conditions uncomfortable, such as a lack of warm bedding

Physical abuse is one of the common types of abuse in a relationship, whether this is between partners or between family members such as a parent and a child. Whilst a power imbalance is sometimes involved in cases of physical abuse, this is not always the case.

One of the major indicators of physical abuse is when a person has injuries with no satisfactory explanation of how they have occurred. Some of the other keys signs of this category of abuse are:

  • Unexplained bruising, burns, cuts or marks, especially in well-protected areas of the body
  • Frequent injuries and claims of falls
  • Changes to mobility due to injuries
  • Weight loss due to malnutrition
  • Claims that injuries were accidental or self-inflicted
  • Reluctance to remove clothing covering the person’s body
  • Failure to seek medical treatment
  • Subdued or behavioural changes, especially around the abuser


Sexual abuse involves any kind of abusive behaviour that is sexual in nature. This may involve:

  • Any sexual activity that is not consensual
  • Rape, attempted rape or sexual assault
  • Sexual harassment, inappropriate touching, sexual teasing or innuendos
  • Indecent exposure
  • Sexual photography or forced use of pornography

Sexual abuse is one of the common different types of abuse in relationships, but is also a major type of abuse when it comes to the safeguarding of children. Identifying sexual abuse when children are involved can be particularly difficult as they may lack the vocabulary or capacity to explain what has happened or be unaware of the inappropriate nature of what has been done to them.

Indicators of sexual assault can include:

  • Change in usual behaviour
  • Withdrawal
  • Overt sexual behaviour or language which is out of character or unexpected in someone their age
  • Bruising, particularly to the thighs, upper arms, neck and buttocks
  • Bleeding, pain or itching in the genital area
  • Difficulty walking
  • Sudden onset of confusion, incontinence or soiling that is not related to a medical condition 
  • Sexually transmitted diseases or infections
  • Torn or stained underwear
  • Agitation when being bathed or receiving personal care
  • Agitation or reluctance to be alone with a particular person
  • Pregnancy in a person unable to consent
  • Fear, apprehension or withdrawal from relationships 


Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to control or gain power over an intimate partner or relation. It’s another of the most recognised types of abuse and may involve many other types of abusive behaviour, including:

  • Physical violence
  • Psychological and emotional abuse; undermining an individual’s self-confidence
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • So-called honour-based violence, such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage

Domestic abuse is often considered as a kind of abuse that happens between romantic partners, but it can also involve a child, relative or another member of a household. It involves the perpetrator exercising power and control over the person or people affected, often escalating this behaviour over time.

Indicators of domestic abuse may include:

  • Criticism and verbal abuse, both in private and in front of others
  • Preventing contact with family and friends and taking away means of communication
  • Coercive or controlling behaviour
  • Low self-esteem
  • Evidence of physical abuse
  • Limited access to money
  • Fear of outside intervention
  • Beliefs that the abuse is deserved or their fault
  • Unexplained long periods of absence from work or school

Modern Slavery

Modern slavery is any slavery that still takes place in the 21st century, even though these practices are illegal. It is defined by the UK government as “the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation”.

Modern slavery can include:

  • Human trafficking
  • Domestic servitude
  • Forced labour
  • Child marriage
  • Sexual exploitation such as prostitution or pornography
  • Debt exploitation
  • Descent–based slavery

Modern slavery is a problem all over the world and is considered one of the 10 types of abuse because of the abusive behaviour that the practice involves. Some of the keys signs of modern slavery include:

  • Signs of physical or emotional abuse
  • Malnourishment
  • Seeming to be under the control of others
  • Lack of personal belongings
  • Always wearing the same clothes
  • Lack of identification documents
  • Fear of strangers, officials and law enforcement
  • Poor, cramped living conditions

If you suspect that someone is a victim of modern slavery, there is an official reporting process in place to get them help as quickly as possible. You should speak to your designated safeguarding lead, or if you are responsible for reporting safeguarding claims then you should follow the official procedure to notify the Home Office.


Self-neglect is one of the forms of abuse that isn’t as well known because it doesn’t involve another person. Instead, self-neglect happens when an adult engages in behaviour that puts their health and well-being at risk.

This type of abuse involves an individual failing to take care of themselves either intentionally or passively, both of which may be the product of a physical or mental illness. Self-neglecting behaviour can involve:

  • Very poor living conditions
  • Lack of self-care
  • Not seeking medical attention for disease or illness
  • Not seeking social care support
  • Unwillingness or inability to manage their personal affairs

The above behaviours can lead to the following signs of self-neglect:

  • Malnutrition
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Dirty, unkempt appearance
  • Hoarding
  • Living in squalid conditions
  • Failing to complete or report repairs
  • Unwillingness to allow people into their property
  • Lack of essential food and clothing
  • Unwilling to seek medical assistance or take medication
  • Lack of compliance with health and social care services

People experiencing self-neglect often lack the incentive or energy to take care of themselves, and may even refuse to acknowledge that they aren’t looking after themselves properly. It can be a very challenging type of abuse to try and deal with because the victim is also the perpetrator, and often requires different multi-agency approaches to suit each individual situation.


Do all types of abuse involve emotional abuse?

Many types of abuse happen in tandem with one another, so it may be that emotional abuse is taking place alongside another kind, such as physical or domestic abuse. All types of abuse also tend to have an emotional impact on the person targeted, no matter the nature of the abuse, so because of this, you could say that all types of abuse involve some kind of emotional damage.

When will you have a legal duty to report abuse?

There isn’t a legal requirement to report abuse in the UK, but the official guidance in ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ states that anyone concerned about a child’s welfare and suspecting abuse should report it to their local social care authority immediately. Therefore, there is an expectation that suspected abuse should be inspected and reported as those in safeguarding positions have a duty of care to protect the people they look after.

What are the 4 main types of abuse in safeguarding?

The four main types of abuse that are covered in safeguarding are physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. This is because these are the most common kinds of abuse to happen to children and vulnerable adults, who tend to be the focus of safeguarding. 


We all have a role to play in protecting children, young people and vulnerable adults from all forms of abuse when it comes to safeguarding responsibilities. Remember that you don’t have to be absolutely certain that one of the above types of abuse is going on; if you’re concerned someone is being abused or their safety is at risk you are advised to speak to someone as soon as possible.

If you’re looking for safeguarding training that involves topics such as the signs and symptoms of different types of abuse, we offer a range of different online safeguarding courses that are suitable for all kinds of safeguarding practitioners.