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What is abuse and neglect?

The following provides a list of behaviours, examples and case studies to help identify abuse and neglect.

Financial abuse

Behaviours

  • Threatening, coercing re: assets or wills;
  • Taking control of the person’s finances against their wishes and denying access to their own money;
  • Abusing Powers of Attorney;
  • Stealing goods, e.g. jewellery, credit cards, cash, food, and other possessions;
  • Unauthorised use of banking and financial documents;
  • The recent addition of a signature on a bank account.

Warning signs to observe

  • Unexplained disappearance of belongings
  • Unexplained inability to pay bills;
  • Significant bank withdrawals and/or changes to wills
  • Inability of the person to access bank accounts or statements
  • Stockpiling of unpaid bills or an empty fridge
  • Disparity between living conditions and money
  • No money to pay for essentials for the home including food, clothing, and utilities

Financial abuse case study

Anna is an 82 year old woman who has a chronic illness and cannot get around easily. Her son, Tom, moved in to be Anna’s carer as his marriage broke down.

Tom does the shopping using Anna’s ATM card and never shows her the receipts when she asks.

There are unpaid bills piled on the table and Anna tells you that she cannot afford community services anymore.

Behaviours

  • Tom never shows Anna the ATM receipts.

Signs 

  • Unpaid bills on the table and Anna wants to cancel community services.

Psychological abuse

Behaviours

  • Pressuring, intimidating or bullying;
  • Name calling, and verbal abuse;
  • Treating the adult person like a child;
  • Threatening to harm the person, other people or pets;
  • Engaging in emotional blackmail such as threatening to withdraw access to grandchildren, family, friends, services, telephone or placement in an aged care facility;
  • Preventing contact with family and friends, or denying access to the phone or computer;
  • Withholding mail;
  • Preventing a person from engaging in religious or cultural practices;
  • Moving the person far away family or friends.

Warning signs to observe

  • Resignation, shame;
  • Depression, tearfulness;
  • Confusion, agitation;
  • Feelings of helplessness;
  • Unexplained paranoia or excessive fear;
  • Disrupted appetite or sleep patterns, such as insomnia;
  • Unusual passivity or anger;
  • Sadness or grief at the loss of interactions with others;
  • Withdrawal or listlessness due to people not visiting;
  • Changes in levels of self-esteem;
  • Worry or anxiety after a visit by specific person/people;
  • Social isolation

Psychological abuse case study

Maria is an 80 year old woman and English is not her first language. She has a recent diagnosis of depression. Maria lives with her husband Vincent, and daughter, Theresa who moved in 4 months ago. Theresa notices that her father is very controlling, puts her mother down, and refuses to take Maria to church despite her repeatedly asking.

Theresa is concerned of her mother’s safety and things she is becoming quite withdrawn. There is a history of domestic and family violence.

Behaviours

  • Vincent is verbally abusive, and is socially isolating Maria.

Signs 

  • Maria is becoming withdrawn.

Neglect

Behaviours

  • Failure to provide basic needs, i.e. food, adequate or clean clothing, heating, medicines;
  • Under- or over-medicating;
  • Exposure to danger or lack of supervision, such as leaving the person in an unsafe place or in isolation;
  • An overly attentive carer in the company of others;
  • Refusal to permit others to provide appropriate care.

Warning signs to observe

  • Inadequate clothing, complaints of being cold or too hot;
  • Poor personal hygiene, unkempt appearance;
  • Lack of medical or dental care, or injuries that have not been properly cared for;
  • Absence of required aids;
  • Exposure to unsafe, unhealthy, and /or unsanitary conditions;
  • Unexplained weight loss, dehydration, poor skin integrity, malnutrition

Neglect case study

Sarah is a 35 year old woman. She has an intellectual disability and other chronic illnesses. She lives in social housing with her Mum, Jan, who is her carer and Power of Attorney.

Jan has cancelled Sarah’s disability services. Sarah’s clothes are soiled and dirty and she appears to have lost weight.

Behaviours

  • Jan has cancelled disability services.

Signs

  • Sarah has lost weight and has soiled, dirty clothes.

Physical abuse

Behaviours

  • Pushing, shoving, or rough handling;
  • Kicking, hitting, punching, slapping, biting, and/or burning;
  • Restraining: physical or medical;
  • Locking the person in a room or home or tying to a chair or bed;
  • Intentional injury with a weapon or object;
  • Overuse or misuse of medications.

Warning sings to observe

  • Internal or external injuries (sprains, dislocations and fractures, pressure sores, unexplained bruises or marks on different areas of the body, pain on touching);
  • Broken or healing bones;
  • Lacerations to mouth, lips, gums, eyes or ears, missing teeth and/or eye injuries;
  • Evidence of hitting, punching, shaking, pulling, i.e. bruises, lacerations, choke marks, hair loss or welts;
  • Burns, i.e. rope, cigarettes, matches, iron, and/or hot water

Physical abuse case study

George is a 78 year old man. Whilst undergoing rehabilitation for a knee replacement he has resided with his son, Ken and Ken’s family.

George has bruising on his arms and says that Ken gets angry and has grabbed him but doesn’t mean anything by it.

Behaviours

  • George disclosed that Ken gets angry and has grabbed him.

Signs

  • Evidence of bruising on George’s arm.

Sexual abuse

Behaviours

  • Non-consensual sexual contact, language or exploitative behaviour;
  • Rape and sexual assault;
  • Cleaning or treating the person’s genital area roughly or inappropriately;
  • Enforced nudity of the person against their consent.

Warning sings to observe

  • Unexplained STD or incontinence (bladder or bowel);
  • Injury and trauma, e.g. scratches, bruises etc. to face, neck, chest, abdomen, thighs or buttocks;
  • Trauma including bleeding around the genitals, chest, rectum or mouth;
  • Torn or bloody underclothing or bedding;
  • Human bite marks;
  • Anxiety around the perpetrator and other psychological symptoms

Sexual abuse case study

Tess is a 55 year old woman with a physical disability. She lives in a flat adjoining her daughter, Jackie and son-in-law John’s property, and her rent is paid for by John.

Unbeknownst to Jackie, John has been making unwelcomed visits to Tess. John exposes himself and talks about what he would like to do with Tess in a sexually explicit way. John threatens that if Tess tells her daughter, he will stop covering her rent.

Tess wants to tell her daughter and move away, but worries it will ruin their relationship and will affect her living arrangements.

Behaviours

  • John is exposing himself, using sexually explicit language and threatening Tess.

Signs

  • Tess is anxious around John and avoids being alone whenever possible.

Download a copy of these signs and symptoms

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Last updated: 02 Dec 2019
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