Safeguarding: the definition of abuse and neglect

Abuse happens when a person who is unable to protect themselves is ill treated or neglected. It may be a one-off incident, or may happen repeatedly over time. 

Anyone can harm an adult who is not able to protect themselves. This could include a:

  • partner
  • relative
  • friend
  • neighbour, or
  • care worker.

The abuse may take place anywhere, in a public or private place. 

Get help for adults at risk of abuse or neglect

Behaviours that count as abuse or neglect

Physical abuse

Including hitting, slapping, pushing, misuse of medication, restraint or inappropriate physical sanctions.

Sexual abuse

Including rape and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into consenting.

Psychological abuse

Including emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, isolation or unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or supportive networks.


Either opportunistically or premeditated, unfairly manipulating someone for profit or personal gain.

Financial or material abuse

Including theft, fraud, exploitation, coercion in relation to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements, such as connection with wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse of property, possessions or benefits.

Neglect and acts of omission

Including ignoring medical or physical care needs, failure to provide access to appropriate health, care and support or educational services, the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating.

Discriminatory abuse

Including discrimination on grounds of race, gender and gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, religion, and other forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment.

Institutional abuse

Including neglect and poor care practice within an institution or specific care setting like a hospital or care home, for example. This may range from isolated incidents to continuing ill-treatment.