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Last updated: 10.04.18

Ten types of abuse you should be aware of

Whilst it is not always easy to identify if abuse is occurring, by having an understanding of the categories and the indicators, earlier intervention can be applied. No matter the age, gender, socioeconomic status, education or ethnicity, it is important to recognise that anyone can become a victim of abuse.

Abuse is most commonly understood as a pattern of behaviour intended to establish and maintain control over family, household members, intimate partners, colleagues, individuals or groups. Let’s look at each category and some of the indicators in more detail.


Discriminatory abuse may occur due to:

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

Indicators of discriminatory abuse may include:

  • Change in behaviour – anger, fear, frustration, anxiety and loss of self esteem
  • Become withdrawn or isolated

Indicators may also come in the form of:

  • Criminal damage to property
  • Derogatory comments, verbal or physical abuse in public places
  • Harassment
  • Hate mail, trolling on social media


Psychological abuse sometimes referred to as emotional abuse, can include the following:

  • Prevention of making choices or expressing their opinions
  • Forced social isolation; not allowed to see friends, access education
  • Denying access to mobility or communication aids
  • Use of threats, fear or bribes
  • Prevention of accessing services
  • Cyber bullying
  • Intimidation, humiliation, bullying, threats, harassment or verbal abuse

Indicators may include:

  • Low self esteem
  • Change in behaviour around their abuser
  • Change in behaviour – become uncooperative, aggressive, tearful, angry, withdrawn
  • Change in appetite – unusual weight loss or gain

Financial or material

This type 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

Indicators may include:

  • Inability to pay bills or financial hardship
  • Unaccounted withdrawal of money from back accounts
  • Sudden change in wills or deeds to a house or property
  • Personal items going missing
  • Unnecessary property repairs or purchases


Organisational abuse, also known as institutional abuse, may occur in residential and nursing homes, hospitals, day care centres of sheltered housing and can include:

  • Lack of care, neglect and respect for dignity and privacy
  • Poor professional practice due to inadequate structures, policies and procedures
  • Discouragement of visitor
  • Inadequate provision of food and drink, including the assistance with eating
  • Misuse of medication
  • Failure to respond to complaints

Indicators may include:

  • Lack of personal belongs and clothing
  • Rigid routines with no option of flexibility
  • Unnecessary medical procedures such as; catheterisation
  • Loss of weight, hunger or dehydration
  • Inadequate care plans and care standards

Neglect and acts of omission

This type of abuse can include:

  • Absence of emotional, physical or medical health care
  • Withholding of basic necessities such as; nutrition, heating and medication
  • Isolation

Indicators can include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Lack of basic necessities such as; food, heating, lighting and adequate clothing
  • Isolation
  • Poor physical condition or personal hygiene
  • Pressure sores or ulcers
  • Untaken medication


Physical abuse is when there are injuries with no satisfactory explanation of how it has occurred. The different types can include:

  • Assault – hitting, slapping, kicking, pinching, punching
  • 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; lack of warm bedding

Indicators may include:

  • Unexplained bruising, burns, cuts or marks, especially in well protected areas of the body
  • Weight loss due to malnutrition
  • Subdued or behavioural changes, especially around the abuser
  • Frequent injuries
  • Failure to seek medical treatment


Sexual abuse can include:

  • 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

Indicators can include:

  • Change in usual behaviour
  • 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
  • Overt sexual behaviour/language which is out of character
  • Sexually transmitted disease or infections
  • Torn or stained underwear
  • Agitation when being bathed
  • Pregnancy in a person unable to consent


Domestic abuse can include the following:

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

Indicators may include:

  • Criticism and verbal abuse
  • Isolation – preventing contact with family and friends, and taking away means of communication
  • Low self-esteem
  • Evidence of physical abuse
  • Limited access to money
  • Unexplained long periods of absence from work or school

Modern slavery

This type of abuse can include:

  • Human trafficking
  • Domestic servitude and forced labour
  • Sexual exploitation, such as prostitution or pornography

Indicators may include:

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


Self-neglect is when any adult fails to take care of himself or herself, and can include:

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

Indicators can include:

  • Malnutrition
  • 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

We all have a role to play in protecting children, young people and vulnerable adults from all forms of abuse. Many people do not act because they’re worried about being wrong. Remember, you don’t have to be absolutely certain; if you’re concerned someone is being abused or their safety is at risk, speak to someone.

For more information on how Virtual College can support your organisation, please contact Felicity Bagshaw at salesteam@virtual-college.co.uk