What is abuse?

There are many different types of abuse; all result in behaviour towards a person that deliberately causes, or intends to cause them harm.

Anyone can become an abuser. Most abusers are known by the adult at risk. The abuse can happen anywhere – in the home, in the community, in day or residential care, in hospital or at college. Abusers can be:

  • family members
  • friends
  • neighbours
  • paid carers
  • health or care professionals
  • work colleagues

You can read about the different kinds of abuse below. Please note that the examples given are not based on Barnsley cases.

Physical abuse

Someone may harm you by:

  • hitting you
  • scratching you
  • burning you
  • tying you to a bed or chair


Fred is 78; he lives with his son and family. Susan, his daughter-in-law shouts at him and slaps him when he drops things. Fred is frightened that they'll tell him to leave if he says anything.

Sexual abuse

Someone might harm you by:

  • touching you in places you don’t like
  • forcing you to touch them in places you don’t like
  • making you take your clothes off and watching you
  • letting their friends touch you in places you don’t like
  • making you watch films about sex that you don’t like
  • making you have sex with them


Chloe is 24; she's a wheelchair user and has learning difficulties. She lives with her mum, dad and brother. Her uncle comes round when all of her family are out and takes her phone off her. He touches her on her private parts and makes her touch his private parts. He tells her it's their secret and no-one will believe her if she tells them.

Financial abuse

Someone may harm you by:

  • taking money out of your purse without asking you
  • taking money out of your bank without telling you
  • buying their shopping with your money
  • shouting at you until you give them money


James is 42; he lives on his own as his mum died this year. James has an illness that means he finds it difficult to get out. Marie (23) lives along the street; she tells James to give her his money and she'll get his shopping. James gives her £50, but she only brings him bread and milk and never brings any receipts from the shop.


You might be neglected by family, friends or a paid worker in your own home, care home, or hospital. This could result in:

  • not being able to get to the toilet and sitting in your own urine/faeces
  • not being supported to get to medical appointments like the optician, doctor, or hospital
  • not being given your medication when you need it
  • being left in bed for long periods, even though you would choose to be up and about
  • not getting your meals on time and being hungry


Elsie (72) lives at home. She has home helps who are meant to come every morning and at tea time to get her up, make sure she has been washed and dressed, and has got something to eat.

Three times this week, Elsie's carers haven't arrived in the morning and she wasn't able to get up on her own. Two of the days she stayed in bed until 6pm and her skin got very sore.

Discriminatory abuse

This includes hate mate incidents/crimes.

It's against the law to discriminate against someone because they have a disability, learning disability, or mental ill health. In safeguarding, this is called discriminatory abuse.

Examples of this include:

  • being called names that upset you, because you have a disability or a learning disability
  • having items (eggs/stones/paint) thrown at your property
  • being forced to let people into your home who are not your friends and who don’t treat you very well
  • people saying they're your friend, but they hit you or take your money off you


Fiona is 28; she has learning difficulties, which means that she struggles to manage her money and to decide who are good friends. Fiona thinks that Lisa and Jane are her friends, but they take money off her and don’t pay it back, use her flat for parties, which Fiona doesn't like, as people get very drunk and they frighten her and try to stop her seeing her family and support workers. Recently they've started to hit her and told her that if she tells anyone, they'll lock her in the bedroom.

Emotional abuse

It's hard to spot this type of abuse as it doesn’t leave any bruises, but it can have long term effects, such as anxiety, depression, self harm etc.

Examples include:

  • being told that you'll not see your grandchildren if you don’t give your son/daughter money every week – even if you can’t afford it or would prefer not to
  • care workers telling you that you're a waste of space and it's no wonder your family don’t come and see you
  • family threatening to hit you, leave you on your own, or put you in a care home
  • family not allowing you to see your friends or go out
  • care staff not allowing you to do things you like because 'you don’t deserve it'


Craig has a learning disability; he lives in a shared house with three other people (Jason, Ellen and John), who he likes. Sharon and Martin (two of the carers) keep telling him that he is a “waste of space”, “smelly” and that “ the house would be better if he didn’t live there”. Craig is very upset by this and if spending more time in his room. He really wants to go on the next holiday but is too scared to put his name down as Sharon and Martin are the main carers.

Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is when adults aged 18 or over who are, or have been, boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife or a family member – son/sister etc, threaten to hurt you or do hurt you. This abuse can happen between any genders (male/female, male/male, female/male or female/female).

You may be hurt:

  • physically – hit or scratched
  • emotionally – threatened or shouted at
  • sexually – being forced to have sex when you don’t want to, or sex you don’t like
  • financially – having no control over your money so you're not able to buy things you need or want


Claire is 47; she used to work but isn't able to now as a result of failing health. Her son Andrew (25) lives with her. Andrew takes money from his mum without asking her. When Claire tells him he shouldn’t do this, he shouts at her and tells her he will hit her.

Last night, Andrew came in drunk and Claire asked him to help her make a cup of tea. Andrew threw the hot tea over Claire, scalding her arms and chest.

If you need more advice on domestic abuse, visit the Independent Domestic Abuse Service website.

Modern day slavery

Modern slavery is a crime. It includes slavery, forced labour and human trafficking.

Someone's a slave when they don’t have a choice about working, don’t get paid, and often aren't able to leave the premises they're working in, or if they do leave they're likely to be beaten or threatened. This can include both adults and children. 

Often adults are 'sold' from one gang to another and may have to work in fields, picking crops, in factories, doing nails, washing cars etc. They may be forced to sell sex or commit crimes to stop their 'owners' beating them up or arranging for them to be deported from the country.

Adults aren't able to make a choice about what work they do and often live in overcrowded and poor accommodation.

All concerns about adults and children should be shared with the NRM (National Referral Mechanism) in most cases with safeguarding. You must get the consent of the adult who is the victim of modern slavery, however a child is not legally able to consent and a referral must be made. To make a referral you can complete the human trafficking victims referral form on GOV.UK. If you do not have consent from an adult you still have a duty to notify about a potential victim of modern slavery. You can complete the duty to notify form on GOV.UK.       


Agnetta is a 26 year old, who was brought into the country illegally to escape violence in her home country. The gang who arranged this have told her that she has to pay off the cost of bringing her to the UK. Initially, they arrange for her to work in a nail bar. She's unable to tell customers what's going on, as she doesn't speak English very well. Later on, as her language improves, they move her into a shared house and she and two other women are forced to have sex with men. The money from this is taken by the gang.

Organisational abuse

Adults may be harmed or hurt in care homes, domiciliary care, or hospitals, but staff working there do nothing to stop it happening. It may happen because there aren't enough staff to meet the needs of the adults in their care, essential equipment isn't available, such as hoists, or staff and managers actively harm and threaten people in their care. (Example of organisational abuse: Winterbourne View Hospital.)

This is most likely to happen when staff:

  • receive little or no support from managers and/or have no policies
  • are inadequately trained
  • are poorly supervised and poorly supported in their work
  • receive inadequate guidance

And in organisations who don’t have:

  • any, or poor, management
  • enough staff
  • a person centred/flexible approach to delivering care and support
  • an open and learning culture – visitors are welcomed, records are available to see, etc
  • quality assurance and monitoring systems in place


Rushing Brooks is a care unit for adults with learning disabilities and physical disabilities. Some adults live there permanently, some come in for respite care.

The staff regularly shout at the adults and lock them in their rooms. They offer them treats like cake and chocolate, but don’t give them any, and then laugh whilst they eat it themselves.

Frank and Dot are often picked on and made to get into bed together which Dot really doesn’t like as Frank touches her private parts. The staff watch and encourage Frank.

Managers are not often around and they don’t challenge the staff about the way they care for the adults who live there.


How to recognise abuse

It's not always easy to spot the signs of abuse.

The person being abused or neglected may be too scared to speak up about it, especially if they know the person who's abusing them.

They may try to hide the fact that they're being abused, by making excuses about their bruises, why they don't want to go out or talk to people, or  why they're short of money.

Watch out for the common signs that suggest a person may have been abused:

  • multiple bruising or finger marks
  • injuries that can't be explained
  • deterioration of health for no apparent reason
  • looking unkempt, dirty or thinner than usual
  • inappropriate or inadequate clothing
  • withdrawal or mood changes
  • a carer who's unwilling to allow access to the person
  • not wanting to be left on their own with certain people
  • being unusually light-hearted and insisting there's nothing wrong

What to do if you think someone's being abused

If you spot any of the above, talk to the person you think is being abused to see if there's anything you can do to help.

  • Always listen carefully.
  • Make a note of what's happened or what you're worried about.
  • If you're an adult who's being abused, or think you may be, talk to someone you trust or contact us.
  • If an adult at risk confides in you, ask their permission to contact us or the police if a criminal offence is suspected.
  • If you're a paid carer or volunteer, tell your manager or another manager in your agency.
  • If the person denies abuse, but the signs are still there and you're still worried, share your concerns with us.

What happens next?

We will listen and take you seriously. We'll help decide which the most appropriate agency to work with you is. We can visit you or the adult at risk and find out what's happening. We'll work with you to investigate and establish the facts. If necessary, we can help you to report the abuse to the police or other agencies who may be able to help with an investigation.

Together with other agencies we can make plans to help you feel safer, and improve your wellbeing. If necessary, we can help you to report the abuse to the police. We can help with any communication difficulties you may have because of your disability or illness.