What are the Signs of Abuse and How do I spot them?

Abuse has many signs/symptoms and can vary case-to-case.

This guide aims to help recognise indications someone is abusive or being abused.

What are the signs of Physical abuse?

The indicators of physical abuse include you being threatened and intimidated; in a majority of cases, threats will become physical.

In some cases, you may not realise you are being abused; for example you may get pushed and grabbed and the assailant could say ‘they didn’t mean it or it was an accident’.

However, if these ‘accidents’ become more frequent then it is a sign that you are the victim to physical abuse.

You may also notice scratches and bruises appear around your body, which is another indicator of violent behaviour.

Physical violence can be easily escalated; this is where abuse gradually gets worse.

One type of abuse often transitions into another.

For example, pushes and shoves may develop to punches etc. so it is important to look out for initial forms of abuse & acting upon this before it gets worse.

Typical signs of physical abuse are that the victim is frequently subject to aggressive forms of contact, with violent intentions.

The contact doesn’t necessarily have to be a punch; other common signs of physical abuse are when the victim gets kicked, nipped, pushed and has their hair pulled.

All forms of violent contact constitute physical abuse.

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    What are the signs and indicators of sexual abuse?

    How can you tell if someone has been sexually abused and is it even possible to identify sexual abuse? In reality it is not always easy to notice that someone is a victim.

    Victims often feel shame and do not disclose the abuse that they have been through.

    Victims may sometimes show the following signs:

    • Changing in eating habits
    • Self-harming behaviours
    • Signs of trauma to the genital area such as unexplained bleeding, bruising or blood on the sheets
    • Post-traumatic stress
    • Loss of sleep
    • Change in behaviour
    • Bruising
    • Sexually transmitted diseases
    • Pregnancy
    • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
    • Emotional disorders, including depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts
    • A sudden decline in grades or sudden withdrawal in studies
    • Excessive drinking or drug use
    • Withdrawal from close friendships and isolation

    What are the symptoms of sexual abuse?

    Individuals all react differently to sexual abuse. Below are some of the ways that individuals may react:

    • Anxiety
    • Anger
    • Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
    • Sleep problems including nightmares
    • Confusion
    • Unusual aggressiveness
    • Lack of trust
    • Secretiveness
    • Refusal to go to school
    • Abnormal interest in anything of sexual nature

    What are the signs of emotional abuse?

    It can be difficult to spot the warning signs of emotional abuse however learning the common indicators can help you recognise this sooner.

    Emotional abuse may be more common than you think – the Crime Survey for England and Wales approximated that around 3.8 million people between the ages of 18-74 have experienced emotional abuse.

    Many victims of emotional abuse may not realise they are being abused, which makes leaving the relationship harder.

    Common signs that you or someone you know are being emotionally abused can include:

    • Being isolated from family and friends
    • Gaslighting
    • Attempts to embarrass you
    • Controls your items or finances
    • Name calling
    • Invasion of privacy
    • Controlling
    • Rejection
    • Co-dependence

    Emotional abuse tends to worsen over time. It is common for emotional abuse to eventually turn physical.

    Statistic shows that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, therefore it is important to know the early warning signs to prevent the chances of this.

    What are the signs of domestic abuse?

    here are many different signs of domestic abuse, one of them being controlling behaviour. This can be in the form of being told what you can and can’t wear and who you can speak to.

    Abusers make victims feel as though they need to ask for permission to see friends and family and often get angry if you don’t seek their approval before doing something.

    Many abusers do actually control their partner’s finances and often force them to leave their jobs due to their own insecurities.

    How to spot domestic abuse

    Most domestic abuse leads to physical violence. Many victims are locked in and out of their house as well as kept from eating, sleeping or seeking medical care when needed.

    Abusers can abandon their victims in places they don’t know and often attack them with weapons alongside punching, biting and pulling by their hair.

    Physical violence is often targeted to body parts just as the torso or head which aren’t very visible so no one picks up on the abuse.

    Injuries are much more hidden and can consequently go without being noticed by others.

    Sexual abuse is becoming a lot more common with domestically violent relationships. Abusers often force themselves on their victims and can be very violent throughout causing internal injuries.

    Alternatively, victims may find that they feel as though they owe it to the abuser to have intercourse with them because they are in a relationship.

    Some may find that their abusers accuse them of having an affair if they don’t engage in sexual activities. 

    This can become extremely mentally exhausting for the victim causing them to feel worthless and often ‘unclean’.

    Some victims may find that their partner engages in sexual activities with them when they are asleep and not in a state to give permission to consent.

    Although every case of domestic violence is different, there are a number of signs which you may look out for.

    This could include things like bullying, constant shouting and using the threat of violence.

    Most victims do live in constant fear of their partner and are often made to feel as though they deserve the violence they are receiving.

    Being in a domestically violent relationship can completely change you as a person.

    This could include being a lot more anxious and withdrawn as well as having very low self-esteem.

    What are the signs of financial abuse?

    When people mention abuse, it is common for thoughts to instantly go to physical. There are victims of abuse that do not realise it due to the lack of physical aspects.

    What some do not realise is that abuse can come in the form of financial and material.

    The abuser often acquires, uses and maintains the money of their partner and this occurs in up to 99% of domestic violence cases.

    This form of abuse is not easily recognised and is considered ‘silent abuse’. It can start with small offences, with the abuser slowly increasing their control over a period of time.

    How to spot financial abuse

    Financial abuse can start with instances that seem helpful at the time; for example, handling your finances and encouraging you to stop working because they will look after you.

    They will often do these things without your input and play this off that they are trying to make your life easier.

    However, this is just one example. Financial abuse is different with each relationship as there is not one way that someone can control money.

    This can make identifying the signs much harder. Abusers can begin with helping out with your finances, to completely controlling what you spend your money on through ‘allowances’.

    If the victim of abuse has a job, the abuser may feel entitled to this and demand that it is paid into their account, or you give them the money ‘they deserve’.

    In the beginning of the abuse, you may be encouraged to have a joint bank account which will later be used to monitor your spendings; this can result in threats to cut you off financially or spending your money without your knowledge.

    Financial abuse can also turn into material abuse. You may find that your abuser will limit your access to things you have not paid for.

    This could be trivial things such as food you have not bought, to the car that you do not put petrol in.

    It may seem small at first – trivial – but with these signs, you will be able to spot financial abuse in your partner.

    Your partner may:

    • require you to account for everything you have spent
    • limit your access to personal or joint bank accounts
    • max out credits cards in your name
    • live in your home without working or helping
    • using other forms of abuse such as verbal or physical

    Financial abuse will leave the victim with no money or power to leave the relationship.

    These sorts of effects can take control of your life and make you feel trapped; that is the aim of the abuser. You may feel isolated and alone, leading to depression and harmful thoughts.

    It is important to speak out about the abuse and stand against your partner with the support of family and friends.

    Look into talking to your GP and working through the loneliness and the negative disruption to your mental health.

    What are the Signs of Neglectful Abuse?

    A less known type of abuse is known as neglect abuse.

    This is where someone who is responsible for caring for an adult or child does not provide the required amount of care of type of care that the person they care for needs.

    Some examples of this are:

    • Not providing food, shelter or adequate clothing.
    • Other essentials not being provided that would fall under neglect abuse are medical items such as dentures, hearing aids or glasses.

    This form of abuse however does not solely fall under not providing what is required, it can also include isolating and/or ignoring the person being cared for socially or for their individual needs or providing this care in a way which is uncomfortable or disliked.

    Unlike other forms of abuse, while neglectful abuse can definitely be deliberate, it can also be unintentional if the person who is responsible for caring is themselves not capable to provide the level of care needed due to their own ability.

    An example of this could be an elderly couple in which one partner cares for the other due to an illness such as dementia however in their old age they are unable to provide the level of care needed and this would not be deliberate.

    What factors feature in adult abuse and neglect?

    If you feel like someone you know may be experiencing neglectful abuse we would like to highlight some of the ways this could be identified from an outside perspective:

    • They are in an unhygienic and dirty environment.
    • Their personal hygiene is very poor.
    • Their clothing is not suitable for what they need to do/the locations they visit.
    • Their medical issues, including injuries they may have sustained are going untreated. This could include rapid or unexpected weight loss or malnutrition as well as ulcers.
    • They are not in proper contact with medical or social care workers.
    • The medication they require is building up and not being taken.

    If the person in question does not have someone who cares for them then this can also be a sign of self-neglect.

    What are the signs of child abuse?

    Child abuse is where someone under the age of 18 is being exposed to harm or is not receiving the care they should be receiving.

    Children can be abused by many different people including their parents, siblings or teachers.

    It is difficult to know how to tell if someone is being abused by their parents.

    How to tell if some is being abused by parent?

    Some signs that are easy to recognise are physical cuts or bruises.

    If a child is regularly seen with physical injuries, and the explanation of how the child received the injury doesn’t match the cut or bruise, then this can be a sign that they child is being physically abused.

    It is usual for children to fall over while playing, injuring themselves, however sometimes this injury can be distinguished from one caused by abuse.

    It is important for people working with children, such as teachers and nursery workers to know how to spot child abuse.

    Children can be emotionally abused, but the warning signs for this are more difficult to spot.

    One sign a child is being emotionally abused is if the child appears to have a low self-esteem.

    This could be caused when their parents, or another important figure in their life, constantly focusses on the negative aspects of the child and never gives positive feedback.

    It can cause the child to feel like they are worthless and that their feelings are not valid. A way to tell if a child has been abused is by watching their behaviour.

    Children will display that they are being abused in different ways. Some children are loud and attention seeking.

    This is because they crave the attention they are lacking from their parents or guardian.

    Other children may be extremely quiet possibly due to fear that they will be abused further.

    What are the signs of verbal abuse?

    Whilst verbal abuse does not leave bruising, it is still a very common method of abused used by perpetrators.

    What does verbal abuse look like in marriage?

    Verbal abuse in marriage can take place by way of the other partner making hurtful and derogatory remarks toward the other partner whilst making it seem like they still care and love their partner.

    It is sometimes difficult to identify this type of abuse as many believe that the perpetrator genuinely cares for them and that their hurtful words are their way of expressing their feelings towards them.

    In addition to name calling, other signs of verbal abuse in marriage can take way by the form of manipulation, degradation, gas lighting and isolation.

    How to recognise an abusive relationship

    The first step of being a survivor of abuse is recognising that you are in an abusive relationship.

    Signs of an abusive marriage can involve being isolated from other people such as friends, family and colleagues, being constantly disrespected and persistently talked down to in front of other people.

    Having your private information checked such as your social media accounts, your phone and emails and also having physical violence being made against you.

    Whilst signs of abusive relationships are not limited to these, there are a number of other factors which the perpetrator may tailor toward their partner in order for them to maintain full control of them.

    Recognising these factors and taking action to stop the abuse as soon as possible is the first step in becoming an abuse survivor.

    What are the signs of cohersive control abuse?

    Coercive control is when an abuser uses fear, and sometime violence, to manipulate and control their victim.

    Most victims of coercive control do not know they are being abused, they have usually grown up with the abuse, making it become an everyday life to them.

    There are many different signs of coercive control:

    • Being isolated from family and friends – this is very common in abusive romantic relationships. The abuser will close all support systems making that the victim have nobody to talk to other than the abuser. It is a way to make victims feel like they have no way out of the relationship.
    • Not allowing the victim to have their own money – the abuser will not allow the victim to have their own money to spend. They may give the victim a budget a week to use or hand them specific amounts of money to spend on e.g. food shopping.
    • Not allowing the victim to leave the house – the abuser may not allow the victim to leave the house unattended.
    • Monitoring the victim’s social media and text messages.

    There are ways to get out of the abuse. Reaching out to your friends and family or support systems is one way.

    Trying to stay in touch with them throughout, despite the disapproval of the abuser, is a way that the abuse can be avoided.

    It is always best to have one place you know you can escape to, whether that be your parents or friends house.

    What are the signs of Discriminatory abuse?

    Discriminatory abuse is the unfair treatment towards an individual because they may be different compared to the perpetrator.

    This may be because the victim is different in age, gender, religion, sexuality and disability.

    Discriminatory abuse can take place in a number of different settings such as in public, in education. In the legal system and in the healthcare system.

    What are the signs and symptoms of discriminatory abuse?

    Perpetrators are known to use discriminatory abuse to exploit someone’s vulnerability and treat them in a way which may prevent them to reach new opportunities and experiences.

    Signs of discriminatory abuse may be verbal abuse towards the victim by using inappropriate language regarding the reason they are different to others, restricting them from using daily assistance they may require such as an interpreter/sign language expert and denying them basic rights such as access to education, employment and healthcare.

    Everyone has the right to be equal and express themselves in their own individual and unique way.

    What are the signs of workplace abuse?

    Workplace abuse can be defined as malicious conduct of an employer or employee which a reasonable person would find hostile.

    Bullying in the workplace will lead to poor morale in the workplace which will then have a reflection on the productivity.

    The majority of the abuse reported does tend to stem from line managers and sometimes colleagues.

    With greater power comes greater responsibility which can often lead to people abusing their power for all the wrong reasons. This is where workplace abuse comes into play.

    There are many different signs of workplace abuse, some more subtle than others. Many people may feel intimidated by others at work which may lead to fearing communication or any direct encounter with others. 

    Excluding people from activities and conversations can make them feel very isolated and unwanted.

    Workplace abuse may also include undermining someone’s work or giving them constant criticism especially in front of other workers.

    This can be very belittling and lead to workers feeling unappreciated and potentially showing signs of performance and productivity issues.

    What are the signs of elder abuse?

    A lot of victims and relatives or friends may ask how to identify elder abuse.

    Older victims sometimes do not speak up about abuse that they are going through.

    Some of the signs of this abuse are as follows:

    • Injuries such as bruising, cuts or broken bones
    • Malnourishment or weight loss
    • Poor Hygiene
    • Symptoms of anxiety, depression or confusion
    • Recurring urinary tract infections
    • Unexplained transactions or loss of money
    • Refusing visitors
    • Missing valuables
    • Dementia symptoms
    • Unexplained falls
    • Withdrawal and inhibited speech
    • Stops taking part in activities he/she enjoys
    • Looks messy, with unwashed hair or dirty clothes
    • Displays signs of trauma such as rocking back and forth

    What are the Signs of Carer & Medical Abuse?

    Carer or medical abuse is usually when someone who is employed to care of someone, whether it be due to old age or severe disability, is abusing who they are supposed to be supporting.

    This can occur in places such as their own homes, residential or nursing homes and even hospitals.

    Some of the ways in which this abuse can occur is the same as any other type of abuse – it can be physical, mental, sexual, financial, neglectful or discriminatory.

    If you are worried that someone you know may be experiencing this we would like to provide some of the ways to identify if this is happening:

    • Unexplained injuries are beginning to appear from bruises and cuts to more severe injuries such as broken bones.
    • Poor hygiene.
    • Sudden weight loss.
    • Any quick changes in the persons behaviour can be an indicator, the most common being a more fearful personality emerging.
    • Their financial situation or material belongings have inexplicably changed.
    • Questionable legal documents are being drawn up or going missing.

    It is also important to note that this abuse may happen regularly over long or short periods or it can be irregular or one off.

    What are the signs of institutional abuse?

    Institutional abuse refers to the mistreatment or neglect of a person at the hands of an institution or system of power.

    The long terms effects of institutional abuse can be just as damaging as emotional or physical abuse. Institutional abuse can also in some cases lead to criminal charges.

    Victims of institutional abuse may be unaware that they are being abused, this is because the signs may not always be noticeable straight away. Some signs of institutional abuse can include:

    • Failure to provide correct healthcare
    • Mistreatment of one’s religious, ethnic or cultural needs
    • Failure to respond to complaints
    • Misuse of power/control
    • Verbal abuse
    • Misuse of one’s finances
    • Lack of choice
    • Mistreated due to race, religion, gender, age, sexuality or disability

    What are the signs of cyber abuse?

    Cyber abuse is the use of an online profile or electronic device to bully and emotionally abuse another person.

    Messages of intimidating nature are sent by an abuser to their victim in an attempt to isolate and harass them. One of the biggest issues with cyber abuse is being unable to identify the assailant.

    You often do now know the person sending these messages, therefore it is difficult to deal with the incidents, making you feel like you are out of control of the situation.

    The threatening behaviour can leave a victim feeling embarrassed through having personal information outed, or through the act of ‘trolling’.

    Trolling is a deliberate act of provoking someone through the use of insults. Effects of cyber abuse can be shown through emotional or behavioural changes.

    A person victim to this may become withdrawn or shy, this can be a sign of depression alongside low moods and being overly stressed.

    If a person starts to change their eating or sleeping habits, it may be a sign that they are a suffering silently, and may be a subject of cyber abuse.

    Always look out for signs of attempting to hurt themselves or threatening suicide and help the situation by removing all social media accounts and all access on-line.

    Cyber abuse is as real as any abuse and by looking out for the signs, you can stop it yourself, or help someone else to stop it.

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