In the UK, people have the right to live an abuse-free life, regardless of their race, gender, age, or mental capacity. A healthy adult will demand and fight for this right. However, vulnerable adults, due to their advanced age or intellectual impairments, are unable to make such demands and, therefore, are at risk of being abused. This article looks at seven types of abuse associated with the safeguarding of vulnerable adults and how to identify them.
What is safeguarding?
The safeguarding of vulnerable adults is often referred to as SOVA.
Individuals with any cognitive impairment may not be aware they are being abused, while those with communication difficulties will find it difficult to express themselves. What makes this worse is the lack of ability for these adults to report it or, sometimes, even identify abuse. 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, family members, friends or the authorities can only look out for tell-tale signs of abuse.
What kinds of abuse do vulnerable adults face?
Below are seven of the most common types of abuse that are used against vulnerable adults and the signs that can help identify abuse.
Physical abuse is, unfortunately, the most common type of abuse used against vulnerable adults. Physical abuse can take many forms, including involuntary isolation; forceful feeding; hitting; slapping; 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 behaviour in the presence of certain people; burns; bruises; cuts or loss of large amounts of hair.
Sexual abuse refers to an unsolicited sexual approach from one person to another. Sexual abuse can be very difficult to identify in vulnerable adults.
Types of sexual abuse include attempted rape; rape; inappropriate touching; sexual teasing; inappropriate dressing; non-consensual masturbation; sexual harassment; and sexual assault.
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; sexually transmitted illnesses (STI's) or unexplained discharge from genitals; unusual behaviour towards a particular person; poor concentration; sleep disturbances; unusual substances around the genital area; pregnancy in females that cannot consent to intercourse.
Psychological or emotional abuse
Psychological abuse is any act or behaviour by one person that causes psychological trauma to another. This psychological trauma includes anxiety and depression. Psychological abuse diminishes the sense of a person's worth or self-esteem.
Type of physiological or emotional abuse includes the threat of harm; the 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 socialising 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 behaviour, particularly silence when certain people enter a room; signs of depression; withdrawal; aggressive behaviour etc.
Financial and material abuse
This is an act of depriving a vulnerable individual of financial and material assistance. It could also mean an unauthorised use of a vulnerable individual's property for selfish purposes.
Types of financial and material abuse include theft of money; fraud; scamming; 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 the power of attorney; false representation of person's bank account etc.
The possible signs of financial abuse include missing money or personal possession; unexplained deductions in a vulnerable individual's account; unusual family interest in the properties of vulnerable persons; recent changes in the title of the property; uncooperative actions by the manager of a vulnerable person's property and funds; a disparity between the vulnerable person's resources and their financial resources etc.
Slavery didn't come to an end in the 19th Century, it was simply repackaged. Currently, it is estimated that close to 40 million people are caught in the throes of contemporary slavery. Vulnerable adults are not left out of this ugly development. Types of modern slavery explored on vulnerable adults include domestic servitude; human trafficking; sexual exploitation; forced labour; 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.
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.
Domestic abuse comes in varying forms, it could be psychological, physical, emotional and financial. Some of its practices include honour-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 include a custodial sentence for abusers or financial retribution. The abused individual is most likely going to be withdrawn from their care and placed in a more secure environment.
Flexebee offers Safeguarding training courses that help identify forms of abuse in vulnerable adults outlining methods for disclosure of such incidents. Dealing with aspects of safeguarding legislation, it is ideal for anyone looking to become a carer. For more information about safeguarding children, please see our Safeguarding Children Awareness and Child Protection course pages.
Our blog Safeguarding Adults & Children - The 5 R's of Safeguarding covers the guidelines that should be followed when acting upon a safeguarding concern, an essential read for anyone involved in the care of vulnerable people.