One of the ways you might recognise abuse is if someone tells you about it. They may do this by telling you about it verbally or by acting in a way which tells you that something is wrong. One of the reasons that adult abuse goes unchallenged is that it is often perpetrated on people who have difficulty in communicating, either as a result of their own needs in relation to communication or as a result of social isolation. Someone who does not communicate verbally and has no-one who is skilled enough to meet their needs may have no-one to whom they can turn. If you are told of abuse, it is important that you take the allegation seriously and do not dismiss it, even if you find it hard to believe what is being said. You might see physical signs of abuse, such as bruising or other marks left on the skin. If someone has been gripped very hard, finger-tip bruising may result. There may be an explanation for the marks or bruising other than abuse. For example, some people do bruise very easily due to a physical condition. It is important that you do not jump to conclusions about the causes of any marks you see, but also that you do not ignore what you have seen. As already mentioned, behaviour can communicate that something is wrong and perhaps that a person is being abused. The behaviour will vary from person to person and can take the form of withdrawal, introspection or, at the other extreme, can be behaviour which is perceived as ‘challenging’ to others. All of these behaviours, can, of course, be caused by many other factors and do not indicate that a person is being abused, just that they may be subject to abuse. You might actually witness an act of abuse and be unsure about whether what you have seen is abusive or not. Think about the action (or lack of action) and ask yourself if the person had their rights violated. Were they hurt, humiliated, impoverished or used for someone else’s pleasure to that person’s disadvantage? Were they prevented from accessing medical advice or intervention when they needed it? Were they encouraged to take part in an activity that caused them harm? Were they denied the basic necessities of life such as shelter, warmth or food and water? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then there is cause for you to suspect that the person is being abused.

Jackie Martin

De Montfort University
Author of Safeguarding Adults, published by Russell House Publishing (2006)

Learning resources to help you deal with protecting vulnerable adults and other situations that can arise when dealing with people can be viewed by clicking the Learn more! button.