Vulnerable adult abuse

Information about the abuse of adults and how you can act to prevent it from happening.

What is abuse?

Abuse is when someone does something to another person that puts them at risk of harm or negatively impacts on their quality of life. An abusive act can be deliberate or be the result of ignorance or lack of training. Abuse can be a criminal act when it is an offence against another person.

This information is about adults - those people who are over 18 years of age. Some adults may be more at risk than others, these include: 

  • People who, because of age, illness, depend on others for care
  • People with mental ill health
  • People with learning or physical disabilities
  • People with sight or hearing impairment or loss
  • People with dementia
  • People with long-term health needs
  • People who misuse drugs or alcohol.

Anyone can be an abuser. Abuse can happen anywhere

Forms of abuse 

Abuse can take many forms:

  • Physical abuse - being hit or injured on purpose
  • Sexual abuse - involvement in sexual activity that is unwanted or not understood
  • Emotional - intimidation, threats, humiliation, verbal or psychological abuse or being prevented from receiving services or support
  • Neglect - not providing food, clothing, attention or care. Failure to provide appropriate access to health and social care, withholding aids or equipment
  • Discriminatory - treating people differently or worse than you would want to be treated because they are older, more frail, confused or otherwise vulnerable
  • Financial/material - theft or misuse of money, property or personal possessions, pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance
  • Misuse of medication - giving medication inappropriately, overdosing or withholding medication

Signs and symptoms of abuse may include:

  • Injuries, bruises or weight loss
  • Behaviour changes, such as being withdrawn or depressed
  • Self harm.

Reporting abuse

If you're worried that an adult is being mistreated then you should report your concerns:

  • Contact Hertfordshire County Council and report the issue online or call 0300 123 4042.
  • Alternatively, contact the police or our Anti-Social Behaviour Team (call 01442 228000 or email

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