Everyone has a duty of care to children and adults at risk and as such we should be vigilant for indicators of harm or abuse.
Physical abuse can include: hitting; slapping; pushing; burning; giving a person a medication that may harm them; restraining or disciplining a person in an inappropriate way; shaking; throwing; poisoning; burning/scalding; freezing; drowning; suffocating; confinement to a room/cot; being tied up; giving drugs/alcohol to control behaviour; forced to eat; twisting limbs and being tortured.
Possible signs: fractures, bruising, burns, pain, marks, sores, not wanting to be touched, fearful eyes, bags under eyes, anxiety, violence/aggression and running away. With adults there may be a history of unexplained falls or weight loss due to malnutrition or dehydration.
Fabricated or induced illness
The parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness.
Psychological/emotional abuse can include: verbal abuse; humiliation; abandonment; isolation; blackmail; the use of threats; conveying to a person that they are worthless, unloved, inadequate, or valued only if you meet the needs of another person; having inappropriate developmental expectations of a child; not allowing a person to express their views; deliberately silencing or making fun of what is said or how they communicate; overprotection; limiting social interactions/learning and exploration; serious bullying causing a victim to feel frightened or in danger, exploitation or corruption of children or adults at risk; psychological manipulation; control; coercion, rejection; denying love; being set up to fail. Emotional abuse may be unintentional if the parent/care giver has e.g. low intelligence or a personality disorder.
Some form of psychological abuse is present in all types of abuse, but can occur alone.
Possible signs: being withdrawn, too eager to do everything they are asked, showing compulsive behaviour, not being able to do things they used to, not being able to concentrate or focus, self-harm, aggression, submissive, developmentally delayed, anxiety, self-soothing. For adults this may also include a change in appetite, weight loss, low self-esteem, insomnia, distress and poor personal hygiene.
Financial abuse can include: misusing or stealing a person’s property, possessions or benefits; fraud; cheating them; using them for financial gain; putting pressure on a person about wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions.
Possible signs: having unusual difficulty with finances, not having enough money, being too protective of money and things they own, not paying bills, sudden debt, not having normal home comforts, personal items going missing or resistance to explaining finances.
Neglect includes: persistent failure to meet a child’s or adult at risk’s basic physical/psychological needs (e.g. food, shelter, clothing, medical attention/treatment). This is likely to result in serious impairment to a child’s development. It includes withdrawing or not giving an adult at risk a service which causes them to suffer; inflicting harm; failing to prevent harm; unresponsiveness to a child’s emotional needs; exclusion from home; abandonment; ignoring medical needs; failure to protect from physical/emotional harm or failure to provide adequate supervision. Neglect can be physical, emotional (being emotionally unavailable), nutritional (starving or overfeeding), lack of supervision, medical and educational.
Neglect can occur in pregnancy by maternal substance abuse.
Possible signs: having pain or discomfort; being very hungry; thirsty or untidy; malnutrition; failing health; changes in behaviour; withdrawn; self-soothing; hypervigilant; clumsiness; no sense of danger; poor personal hygiene; tiredness; bad teeth; untreated health concerns; fearfulness or a lack of lighting or heating in the home; missing aids e.g. hearing or glasses.
Domestic Violence/Familial Abuse
This is abuse by a family member such as partner, son, daughter or sibling. Children will feel fearful and never feel safe. This can include a pattern of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour and it can be physical, sexual and/or emotional.
Sexual abuse can include: direct or indirect sexual activity with children or vulnerable adults, penetrative (e.g. rape/oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing; involving children/adults at risk in the production of, or viewing of, pornographic material; watching sexual activities; encouraging sexually inappropriately behaviour; forcing/enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving violence, whether or not the child is aware of it and grooming in preparation of abuse.
Sexual abuse can occur online, by phones, tablets and other electronic devices.
Possible signs: physical symptoms including genital itching or soreness or having a sexually transmitted disease; using bad language; not wanting to be touched; behaving in a sexually inappropriate way - sometimes with other children; changes in appearance; anxiety and depression; excessive appeasing behaviour; restricted movement; being flirty with adults; inappropriate and jealous behaviour with adults and withdrawing.
Adults may become confused or incontinent, they may have difficulty walking or poor concentration, disturbed sleep, pregnancy, bleeding, aggression and they may have bruising on their thighs, genitals or upper arms.
This is where people are sexually abused, for money, power or status and can include violent, degrading, humiliating sexual assaults. Frequently drugs/alcohol are used to intoxicate and immobilise victims.
In most cases young people are forced into exchanging sexual activity for money, drugs, gifts, affection or status. Consent cannot be given, even if a child believes it may be voluntary. Victims can be intimidated with the threat of violence and/or actual violence and threats of/actual violence against their family or others they care about.
This can occur online and can involve trafficking within and across domestic and international borders.
There may be one or more abusers involved and there may be a number of victims.
Possible signs: unexplained gifts/new possessions; associating other young people being exploited; having older boyfriends/girlfriends; sexually transmitted infections/pregnancy; change in emotional wellbeing; misuse of drugs/alcohol, children go missing or come home late and may regularly miss school/education.
Grooming can include gaining the trust of child or young person and/or making an emotional connection with them in order to facilitate abuse before the abuse begins. It can involve providing money, gifts, drugs/alcohol, or meeting basic needs e.g. food, accommodation, or clothing to develop loyalty and dependence on the groomer. The groomer will be talented, charming and disarming and will implement a strategy to build trust to get access to the victim. Groomers may groom the parents first and may engage in grooming behaviour for years before attempting to cause their intended harm.
Grooming may occur online, through social media, using mobile/other electronic devices. Groomers misuse chatrooms to establish contact with children and young people and may share their details with other perpetrators.
Children or young people may be involved in grooming under the coercion or influence of adults. Such children/young people are also victims.
Trafficking is the acquisition and movement of people by improper means, such as force, threat, or deception, for the purposes of exploiting them. It can include domestic servitude, forced criminal activity, forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, to claim benefits, organ harvesting and for other dark rituals. Victims come from all walks of life, may be children or adults, male or female, migrant or indigenous communities. Victims may be kidnapped or tricked/forced into leaving their homes. Traffickers can be other parents, the partner of a parent, male or female, of any nationality and high or low status.
Possible signs: children may not be enrolled at school; victims may: rarely leave the home, be friendless, claim to be orphans, not know where they come from, be reluctant to share information, appear in inappropriate places, have injuries, be afraid and use scripted stories.
Abuse in communities
Violence/fear is used as a response to antisocial behaviour, crime committed by individuals or a method of control to coerce a child into compliance.
People who are subjected to abuse in their community may be threatened with violence or forced expulsion from their homes/local areas by organised gangs/paramilitaries as a result of perceived cultural beliefs.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
This involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. FGM can result in infertility, infections, severe and constant pain, incontinence or difficulty urinating, organ damage. It may lead to difficulties with pregnancy and childbirth and may be life threatening.
Possible signs: absence from school; the victim is due to attend a special ceremony where they will ‘become a woman’; you hear the term ‘cutter’; the intended victim becomes anxious/upset and may abscond; there will be visible signs of pain; the girl may have difficulty walking or sitting and may be reluctant to ask for help.
This is a marriage entered into without the full and free consent of both parties and where violence, threats, or any form of coercion is used to cause a person to enter into marriage. Threats can be physical, emotional or psychological.
Lack of full and free consent can be where a person does not consent, or cannot consent because of e.g. learning difficulties.
Honour Based Violence
Violent practices are used to control behaviour within families or other social groups to sustain and promote perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour. May occur when perpetrators perceive a relative or another has shamed, or may shame, the family and/or community by breaking their ‘honour code’.
Punishment for breaking the honour code can include, assault, abduction, restrictions on liberty, confinement, threats and murder.
Abuse by a person in a position of trust
Abuse can be perpetrated by adults working in a position of trust, in a paid or unpaid capacity and in a variety of settings.
This is abuse by another person in the same peer group e.g. abuse of a child by another child, or abuse of an adult at risk by another adult.
Bullying & Harassment
There is no legal definition of bullying, but it is generally accepted that bullying includes offensive, abusive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour and which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable and undermines their ability and confidence. Bullying can be physical and emotional and can include name calling, gaslighting, being locked in a cupboard and stalking.
Harassment is defined in equality legislation as “unwanted conduct” related to religious belief; political opinion; sex; gender reassignment; race; sexual orientation; disability; or age, which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or of creating an intimidating hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for that person.
- physical contact ranging from touching to serious assault.
- verbal and written harassment through jokes, racist, sexist or sectarian remarks, homophobic comments, comments about a person’s disability, offensive language, gossip and slander, sectarian songs, mobile telephone ring tones, threats, letters, emails, or any form of cyber bullying through the internet or social networking sites.
- visual displays of posters, graffiti, obscene gestures, flags, bunting, pictures, emblems or any other offensive material (including the use of email or mobile devices to send or view such material).
- isolation or marginalization, exclusion from related social activities, being persistently overruled or excluded from activities.
- coercion, including pressure for sexual favours, pressure to participate in political or religious groups.
- intrusion by pestering, spying, following etc.
- humiliation, intimidation, action which demeans or undermines the individual eg shouting, swearing, excessive and persistent criticism, insults.
- undignified treatment, ridicule, marginalisation of an individual for any reason.
- non-co-operation, withholding information, sabotaging or impeding performance, e.g. removing areas of responsibility and imposing menial tasks, setting unrealistic deadlines for the workload in question, increasing responsibility whilst decreasing authority, persistently undervaluing effort or repeatedly changing guidelines or deadlines.
This occurs when a person is not provided with equality of opportunity and treatment due to the person’s: gender identity/expression (this includes Transgender and Non-Binary people); pregnancy or maternity status; marital or civil partnership status; whether or not they have dependants (including caring responsibilities); religious belief or political opinion; race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, including Irish Travellers); disability; sexual orientation or age.
Possible signs hate crimes, derogatory comments, harassment, denial of medical treatment, not being able to access the same opportunities or services as others.
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like mobile phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behaviour.
The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:
- Social Media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok
- Text messaging and messaging apps on mobile or tablet devices
- Instant messaging, direct messaging, and online chatting over the internet
- Online forums, chat rooms, and message boards, such as Reddit
- Online gaming communities
Some of the most common cyberbullying tactics include:
- Posting comments or rumours about someone online that are mean, hurtful, or embarrassing.
- Discussing the victim in groups.
- Threatening to hurt someone or telling them to kill themselves.
- Posting a mean or hurtful picture or video, or a nude image.
- Pretending to be someone else online in order to solicit or post personal or false information about someone else.
- Posting mean or hateful names, comments, or content about any race, religion, ethnicity, or other personal characteristics online.
- Creating a mean or hurtful webpage about someone.
- Doxing, an abbreviated form of the word documents, is a form of online harassment used to exact revenge and to threaten and destroy the privacy of individuals by making their personal information public, including addresses, social security, credit card and phone numbers, links to social media accounts, and other private data.
(care of stopbullying.gov)
Harassment - This is the act of sending offensive, rude, and insulting messages and being abusive. Nasty or humiliating comments on posts, photos and in chat rooms. Being explicitly offensive on gaming sites.
Denigration – This is when someone may send information about another person that is fake, damaging and untrue. Sharing photos of someone for the purpose to ridicule, spreading fake rumours and gossip. This can be on any site online or on apps. Altering photos of others and posting in online for the purpose of bullying.
Flaming – This is when someone is purposely using really extreme and offensive language and getting into online arguments and fights. They do this to cause reactions and enjoy the fact it causes someone to get distressed.
Impersonation – This is when someone will hack into someone’s email or social networking account and use the person's online identity to send or post vicious or embarrassing material to/about others. The making up of fake profiles on social network sites, apps and online are commonplace and it can be really difficult to get them closed down.
Outing and Trickery – This is when someone may share personal information about another or trick someone into revealing secrets and forward it to others. They may also do this with private images and videos too.
Cyber Stalking – This is the act of repeatedly sending messages that include threats of harm, harassment, intimidating messages, or engaging in other online activities that make a person afraid for his or her safety. The actions may be illegal too depending on what they are doing.
Exclusion – This is when others intentionally leave someone out of a group such as group messages, online apps, gaming sites and other online engagement. This is also a form of social bullying and is very common.
Spreading rumours/gossip, threatening behaviour, blackmailing, grooming and inappropriate images.
(care of BullyingUK)
Adults at risk must consent and be comfortable with any service offered to them. In some cases consent may be verbal or by a physical gesture. The adult at risk needs to be able to understand and weigh up what they are consenting too and must be fully informed. Consent must also be voluntary or else it is not valid.
These signs do not necessarily mean the child or adult at risk is being abused, they may also indicate that there are other issues going on. Qualified professionals will assess the situation.