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Abuse, Bullying and Domestic Violence

Over this year we have seen a lot of media attention around the incidents of abuse, bullying and domestic violence, it appears that the current pandemic has (in some cases) given rise to people being placed in situations that they are unable to escape.

I have tried to understand why this is happening, is it the closeness of those who are unable to cope with their environment or is it just an excuse enabling those who abuse to maintain their behaviour without being exposed.

One of the first questions I wanted to answer for myself is what is the differences between these behaviours?

I looked at definitions and found the following:

Abuse: “The use of something in a way that is wrong or harmful”.

Bullying: “The repeated use of threats or violence in an attempt to harm or intimidate others”.

Domestic Violence: “The situation in which someone you live with attacks you and tries to hurt you”; or

“Violent or abusive behaviour directed by one family or household member against another”.

I have read lot of information about signs to look for in someone who is experiencing such behaviours and to be honest this does vary immensely depending on the situation and the individual who is subjected to these behaviours.

What needs to be considered when trying to support people who are suffering any kind of abusive behaviour, is that they may be hiding what is happening to them whether this is within their own homes, at school or in the workplace.

People who are subjected to such behaviours tend to feel guilty, ashamed and blame themselves and hide what is happening because they don’t want others to judge them.

Human Beings are very good at covering up all sorts of situations, they may become withdrawn, may not socialise tend to cover themselves up (if they are experiencing) to hide any injuries. Flipping the coin, they could act completely out of character become more outrageous in their behaviour.

Getting someone to open up and talk is not an easy process and can take time and effort to encourage the individual to realise that they can escape and rebuild their lives

Please don’t think I’m trying to make this sound easy, because I know that it definitely not! Investing time and effort in supporting people subjected to any of these behaviours is rewarding, however, you have to make sure that if you embark on helping you need to use professional counselling services who have the knowledge, experience and qualifications to enable the individual to feel safe enough to open up and get the help they need.

Abuse takes many different forms and impacts throughout the abused individuals’ life, causing damage to the persons ability to trust others.

Being subjected to domestic abuse from an early age, a child can become very shy child or act a little too friendly with adults. Those who experience bullying through school, if they don’t stand up for themselves are just seen as an easy target as their vulnerability is seen as a source of power to the bullies, which makes them easy targets.

Other concerns, which comes from this abusive behaviour is trust issues, not being able to build secure, lasting relationships, low self-esteem resulting from the exposure to these behaviours.

Being a target of bullying, abuse can continue into working life, opening yourself up to workplace bullying, is not a result of your actions but as others perceptions they see others as a threat to their progression. Trying to support colleagues can result in more people singling others out for unacceptable behaviour, trying to ignore these traits in others is a coping mechanism and places you in denial, you question everything you do to escape the situation, the only problem was the more you try to escape without dealing with the issues, leads to you condoning unacceptable behaviours of those around you.

The hardest part for any sufferer is actually admitting what they have gone through, because when you say it, it becomes real, all the time it’s not spoken about you can pretend it’s not happening to you.

Over the years I have been asked many questions about what others have gone through and why them?

Why didn’t anyone else see what was going on?

Why didn’t anyone stop it?

Why me?

What did they do wrong to encourage these people to treat them this way?

Could they have done anything to prevent this?

During my working life I have tried to help others and give as much support as possible to those who have suffered, however, as I have said previously these issues are personal and you can’t steamroller people into asking for help or trusting you to keep their confidence when they speak to you.

Trusting people can backfire if those you place your trust in have their own ulterior motives for being seen as helping you, ending up with making the situation even worse than before:


Even though this is hard to do, doing nothing is more damaging as this permits bullies and abusers to continue with their behaviour without being called to account for their actions.

Identifying signs

Bullying is an aggressive behaviour that involves an imbalance of power or strength. Bullying is repeated over time and can take many forms, such as hitting, punching, or shoving (physical bullying); teasing, taunting, name-calling, or sexual remarks (verbal bullying); intimidation using gestures, spreading rumours, or social exclusion (psychological or social bullying).

  • Bullying is an aggressive behaviour involving unwanted, negative actions.

  • Bullying involves a pattern of repeated behaviours over time.

  • Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.

Bullying can occur anywhere, including at home, school, church, the park, malls, playgrounds, work, etc. It generally occurs in unsupervised or hidden areas. These areas usually include places where supervision is minimal or anywhere where the chance of getting caught it small (i.e. locker rooms or restrooms).

Stay alert to the different types of abuse

The word abuse covers many different ways someone may harm a vulnerable adult.

Physical abuse is intentional bodily injury. Some examples include slapping, pinching, choking, kicking, shoving, or inappropriately using drugs or physical restraints.

Sexual abuse is non-consensual sexual contact (any unwanted sexual contact). Examples include unwanted touching, rape, sodomy, coerced nudity, sexually explicit photographing.

Mental mistreatment or emotional abuse is deliberately causing mental or emotional pain. Examples include intimidation, coercion, ridiculing, harassment, treating an adult like a child, isolating an adult from family, friends, or regular activity, use of silence to control behaviour, and yelling or swearing which results in mental distress.

Exploitation occurs when a vulnerable adult or his/her resources or income are illegally or improperly used for another person's profit or gain. Examples include illegally withdrawing money out of another person’s account, forging checks, or stealing things out of the vulnerably adult’s house.

Neglect occurs when a person, either through his/her action or inaction, deprives a vulnerable adult of the care necessary to maintain the vulnerable adult’s physical or mental health. Examples include not providing basic items such as food, water, clothing, a safe place to live, medicine, or health care.

Self-neglect occurs when a vulnerable adult fails to provide adequately for themselves and jeopardizes his/her well-being. Examples include a vulnerable adult living in hazardous, unsafe, or unsanitary living conditions or not having enough food or water.

Abandonment occurs when a vulnerable adult is left without the ability to obtain necessary food, clothing, shelter or health care. Examples include deserting a vulnerable adult in a public place or leaving a vulnerable adult at home without the means of getting basic life necessities.

Signs of physical abuse

  • bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations, and rope marks

  • broken bones

  • open wounds, cuts, punctures, untreated injuries in various stages of healing

  • broken eyeglasses/frames, or any physical signs of being punished or restrained

  • laboratory findings of either an overdose or under dose medications

  • individual's report being hit, slapped, kicked, or mistreated

  • vulnerable adult's sudden change in behaviour

  • the caregiver's refusal to allow visitors to see a vulnerable adult alone

Signs of sexual abuse

  • bruises around the breasts or genital area

  • unexplained venereal disease or genital infections

  • unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding

  • torn, stained, or bloody underclothing

  • an individual's report of being sexually assaulted or raped

Signs of mental mistreatment/emotional abuse

  • being emotionally upset or agitated

  • being extremely withdrawn and non-communicative or non-responsive

  • unusual behaviour usually attributed to dementia (e.g., sucking, biting, rocking)

  • nervousness around certain people

  • an individual's report of being verbally or mentally mistreated

Signs of neglect

  • dehydration, malnutrition, untreated bed sores and poor personal hygiene

  • unattended or untreated health problems

  • hazardous or unsafe living condition (e.g., improper wiring, no heat or running water)

  • unsanitary and unclean living conditions (e.g., dirt, fleas, lice on person, soiled bedding, faecal/urine smell, inadequate clothing)

  • an individual's report of being mistreated

Signs of self-neglect

  • dehydration, malnutrition, untreated or improperly attended medical conditions, and poor personal hygiene

  • hazardous or unsafe living conditions

  • unsanitary or unclean living quarters (e.g., animal/insect infestation, no functioning toilet, faecal or urine smell)

  • inappropriate and/or inadequate clothing, lack of the necessary medical aids

  • grossly inadequate housing or homelessness

  • inadequate medical care, not taking prescribed medications properly

Signs of exploitation

  • sudden changes in bank account or banking practice, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money

  • adding additional names on bank signature cards

  • unauthorized withdrawal of funds using an ATM card

  • abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents

  • unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions

  • bills unpaid despite the money being available to pay them

  • forging a signature on financial transactions or for the titles of possessions

  • sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming rights to a vulnerable adult’s possessions

  • unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family

  • providing services that are not necessary

  • individual's report of exploitation

Signs of abandonment

  • deserting a vulnerable adult in a public place

  • deserting a vulnerable adult in his/her own home or living space

  • individual's report of being abandoned

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