Recognizing and Reporting Signs of Abuse and Neglect

Fact Sheet
Updated: 10 months ago
Institutional Rights and Civil Liberties

Abuse and Neglect

A 2013 national survey found that 7 out of 10 people with disabilities reported that they had been abused. Of those, 98% of those victims reported that they knew and trusted their abuser. This fact sheet details signs and symptoms that may be indicative of abuse for a person with a disability. If you see any of these signs, please report them immediately.

Signs of Physical or Sexual Abuse

Physical Indicators

  • Unexplained bruises, scratches, marks or burns on the wrists, ankles, or other parts of a body
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STI)
  • Ulcers
  • Unexplained stomach aches
  • Frequent urinary tract infections (UTI)
  • Bruising or bleeding in the genital area
  • Pain or itching in the genital area
  • Torn or bloody underclothing

Behavioral Indicators

  • Increased aggression or non-compliance
  • Over-willingness to appease
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Attempts to hurt oneself
  • Sudden temper control problems
  • Change in eating habits
  • Violation of other’s property
  • Performance/social skills deterioration
  • Touch phobia
  • Promiscuity or seductive behaviors
  • Isolation and/or Depression

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Physical Indicators

  • Eating disorders, including obesity and anorexia
  • Changes in speech or motor skills (stuttering, stammering, etc.)
  • Nervous disorders (rashes, hives, facial tics, stomach aches, etc.)

Behavioral Indicators

  • Habit disorders (biting, rocking, headbanging, etc.)
  • Cruel behaviors (seeming to get pleasure from hurting others, including animals)
  • Behavioral extremes (overly compliant or demanding, withdrawn or aggressive, listless or excitable)

Signs of Neglect

Physical Indicators

  • Poor hygiene (lice, scabies, bedsores, body odor, etc.)
  • Unsuitable clothing (missing key articles of clothing i.e. underwear, socks, shoes or over/underdressed for climate conditions)
  • Untreated injury or illness
  • Indicators of prolonged exposure to the elements (excessive sunburn, insect bites, colds, etc.)
  • Height and weight significantly below average for age

Behavioral Indicators

  • Chronic hunger, tiredness, or lethargy
  • Age-inappropriate behaviors (bedwetting, wetting, soiling, etc.)
  • Reports of being left alone by caretakers
  • Begging for food or leftovers
  • Chronic absenteeism from school, work, or day programs

Reporting Abuse

DON’T STAY SILENT! Remember, if you suspect abuse of a child or vulnerable adult, you are legally bound to report it! Below are a few things to keep in mind if you suspect abuse or if someone tells you that they are being abused:

  • Do not suggest or imply the story is hard to believe
  • Do not assume caregivers should be called
  • Believe
  • Listen
  • Validate the victim’s feelings and affirm the courageous act of reaching out to you
  • Empower the victim as they work through the healing process
  • Report the abuse

It is important that you report the abuse immediately. Again, don’t stay silent!

The following are several places you can call to report the abuse:

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