Appendix 1 – Definitions of Abuse

Understanding, Recognising and Responding to Abuse

Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment of a child or adult at risk. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child or adult by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children and adults at risk may be abused in a family, or in an institutional or community setting; by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. They may be abused by an adult or adults or a child or children. There are many different ways in which people suffer abuse. The list below is, sadly, not exhaustive.

Type of AbuseChildAdult at Risk
PhysicalActual or likely physical injury to a child, or failure to prevent physical injury to a child.To inflict pain, physical injury or suffering to an adult at risk.
EmotionalThe persistent, emotional, ill treatment of a child that affects their emotional and behavioural development. It may involve conveying to the child that they are worthless and unloved, inadequate, or that they are given responsibilities beyond their years.The use of threats, fear or power gained by another adult’s position, to invalidate the person’s independent wishes. Such behaviour can create very real emotional and psychological distress. All forms of abuse have an emotional component.
SexualInvolves forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. This includes non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, pornographic material or watching sexual activities, or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.Any non-consenting sexual act or behaviour.

No one should enter into a sexual relationship with someone for whom they have pastoral responsibility or hold a position of trust.
NeglectWhere adults fail to care for children and protect them from danger, seriously impairing health and development.A person’s wellbeing is impaired and their care needs are not met. Neglect can be deliberate or can occur as a result of not understanding what someone’s needs are.

Additional Definitions

Type of Abuse
FinancialThe inappropriate use, misappropriation, embezzlement or theft of money, property or possessions.
SpiritualThe inappropriate use of religious belief or practice; coercion and control of one individual by another in a spiritual context; the abuse of trust by someone in a position of spiritual authority (e.g. minister). The person experiences spiritual abuse as a deeply emotional personal attack.
DiscriminationThe inappropriate treatment of a person because of their age, gender, race, religion, cultural background, sexuality or disability.
InstitutionalThe mistreatment or abuse of a person by a regime or individuals within an institution. It can occur through repeated acts of poor or inadequate care and neglect, or poor professional practice or ill-treatment. The church as an institution is not exempt from perpetrating institutional abuse.
Domestic AbuseDomestic abuse is any threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between adults who are or have been in a relationship, or between family members. It can affect anybody regardless of their age, gender, sexuality or social status.
Domestic abuse can be physical, sexual or psychological, and whatever form it takes, it is rarely a one-off incident. Usually there is a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour where an abuser seeks to exert power over their family member or partner.
Cyber AbuseThe use of information technology (email, mobile phones, websites, social media, instant messaging, chatrooms, etc.) to repeatedly harm or harass other people in a deliberate manner.
Self-harmSelf-Harm is the intentional damage or injury to a person’s own body. It is used as a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress. An individual may also be neglecting themselves, which can result in harm to themselves.
Mate crime‘Mate crime’ is when people (particularly those with learning disabilities) are befriended by members of the community, who go on to exploit and take advantage of them.
Modern SlaveryModern slavery is the practice of treating people as property; it includes bonded labour, child labour, sex slavery and trafficking. It is illegal in every country of the world.
Human TraffickingHuman trafficking is when people are bought and sold for financial gain and/or abuse. Men, women and children can be trafficked, both within their own countries and over international borders. The traffickers will trick, coerce, lure or force these vulnerable individuals into sexual exploitation, forced labour, street crime, domestic servitude or even the sale of organs and human sacrifice.
RadicalisationThe radicalisation of individuals is the process by which people come to support any form of extremism and, in some cases, join terrorist groups. Some individuals are more vulnerable to the risk of being groomed into terrorism than others.
Honour / Forced MarriageAn honour marriage / forced marriage is when one or both of the spouses do not, or cannot, consent to the marriage. There may be physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure exerted in order to make the marriage go ahead. The motivation may include the desire to control unwanted behaviour or sexuality.
Female Genital MutilationFemale genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO). FGM is a cultural practice common around the world and is largely performed on girls aged between 10 and 18. Performing acts of FGM is illegal in the UK as is arranging for a child to travel abroad for FGM to be carried out.
Historic AbuseHistoric abuse is the term used to describe disclosures of abuse that were perpetrated in the past. Many people who have experienced abuse don’t tell anyone what happened until years later, with around one third of people abused in childhood waiting until adulthood before they share their experience.

Whilst it is not possible to be prescriptive about the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect, the following list sets out some of the indicators which might be suggestive of abuse:

  • unexplained injuries on areas of the body not usually prone to such injuries
  • an injury that has not been treated/received medical attention
  • an injury for which the explanation seems inconsistent
  • a child or adult at risk discloses behaviour that is harmful to them
  • unexplained changes in behaviour or mood (e.g. becoming very quiet, withdrawn or displaying sudden bursts of temper)
  • inappropriate sexual awareness in children
  • signs of neglect, such as under-nourished, untreated illnesses, inadequate care.

It should be recognised that this list is not exhaustive and the presence of one or more indicators is not in itself proof that abuse is actually taking place. It is also important to remember that there might be other reasons why most of the above are occurring.