Recognising domestic abuse: Safeguarding Week

Domestic abuse affects both men and women and those living with disabilities. This year the latest British crime survey report revealed that 30% of women, 50% of disabled women and 16.3% of men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.

For older women the most common type of abuse is neglect and for older men it’s financial abuse by younger family members.

If you’re working with an older or disabled person who is being cared for by a family member or carer, it’s important to remember that anyone can be a victim. If the person is used to depending on someone else to make decisions and having considerable power over them, they may not recognise that abuse is being carried out.

The person abusing the individual may have a continuous presence with them, but that doesn’t mean they have to live together for it to take place, and for it to be defined as domestic abuse. People living in care homes or alone can still be abused by a family member who are visiting or sharing the care and making decisions.

Assumptions about age and disability mean that when people are seen to be unhappy, injured or depressed it can be presumed to be a result of health and social care needs. Recognising there could be other issues at hand isn’t easy, but we need to ask ourselves whether the individual is being coerced or controlled.

As well as the physical signs of abuse and neglect there are many other things you might notice and start to think about. Someone who is a victim to abuse may be reluctant to use routine medical services or services outside the home where personal care is provided or discouraged from doing so by the abuser.

A victim’s physical or mental disability may also get worse without a clinical or medical explanation.

Humiliation and belittling are other signs to look out for in domestic abuse, as these are particularly common with people living with lifelong disabilities, as they may be used to being on the end of poor attitudes and behaviours. This again, means they may find it hard to recognise that what is happening is a form of abuse.

Actions carried out by carers can come from a lack of coping skills, unmet needs and the risk of harmful behaviour. Whether the carers behaviour is intentional or not, it tends to be greater when the carer’s own well-being is at risk. Next time you’re with someone who is receiving care, it’s important to think about this.

The rule of optimism is often heard when professionals overestimate how effective and safe the care given by families is, which stops us from recognising when someone is at risk of harm or abuse. Although this doesn’t apply to everyone, we can often assume that being a carer means ‘caring’ and we want to see the best in everyone.

Don’t forget, the person who may be a victim to abuse, may also be the carer of the abuser who feels they can’t reach out.