2 January 2019
Abuse of Vulnerable People – by Interchange Australia Consultant, Wendy Hughes
In the Community Services sector, most people are well aware of the term “vulnerable people” or “adults at risk”. These are people who are unable to take care of themselves or unable to protect themselves from significant harm and exploitation due mainly to physical frailty, disability, cognitive impairment, illness or mental health issues. These are the people most likely to be abused.
Let’s look at some of the basic definitions of abuse, as it is not always clear. The NSW Interagency Policy 2014 defines abuse as “a violation of an individual’s human rights by another person or persons.” The Gale Encyclopaedia of Medicine defines abuse as “any action that intentionally harms or injures another person. In short, someone who purposefully harms another in any way is committing abuse.”
Abuse may take place anywhere: in a person’s home, at supported accommodation, in a day centre, in hospital or a clinic, or in a residential care facility. Abuse comes in different forms and may be multiple. NSW Interagency Policy 2014 notes the following:
- Psychological or emotional abuse covers mental stress deriving from action and/or threats, such as: isolation, fear, deprivation, shame and powerlessness.
- Financial abuse covers the illegal or improper use of property or finances.
- Undue influence occurs where the person feels vulnerable or dependent upon another person who threatens to withdraw essential support or harm them (or another person) if they do not comply.
- Neglect or acts of omission occur when the carer or person responsible fails to provide (or allow another person to provide) the necessities of life such as adequate food, shelter, clothing or health needs.
- Physical abuse involves the infliction of physical pain or injury, or physical coercion.
- Restraints and restricted practices include restraining or isolating a person other than for medical necessity.
- Sexual abuse involves a range of sexual acts where the person’s consent has not been obtained or where their consent has been obtained through coercion.
No single factor causes abuse. An abusive situation exists because a person(s) wants to control the other person. While this might be an explanation of abuse, it’s certainly no excuse. One person has no right to exercise control over another through abusive means. Victims of abuse need to know that the abuse is wrong and is never their fault. Every person has the right to live an abuse-free life.
If you are a victim of abuse or would like to report abuse, please contact the National Disability Abuse & Neglect Hotline on 1800 880 052 or the Elder Abuse Hotline on 1800 44 11.
If you would like more information on this topic or are curious about the services Interchange Australia offers, contact one of our friendly and experienced consultants on 1300 112 334.