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Warning signs


A variety of factors often increase the vulnerability of people with disabilities, they include:
  • Dependence on others for basic needs, such as bathing, using the toilet, meal preparation, etc. This reliance on others to assist with activities of daily living increases a person's vulnerability and exposure to abuse.
  • Socialization to comply with the instructions of "those in charge," be they professionals, in-home workers, volunteers or family members. If the "person in charge" is physically or sexually abusive or neglectful, this learned compliance undermines the person's power to seek protection or support.
  • Living in group or institutional settings with housemates that he or she did not choose. It is important for staff at these facilities to teach appropriate behavior to their residents, and provide enough supervision that incidents of physical or sexual abuse do not occur.

Indicators of neglect

  • Dirt, fecal/urine smell or other health and safety hazards in the person's living environment.
  • Rashes, sores, lice on the person.
  • Malnourishment or dehydration with sudden weight loss.
  • Untreated medical condition.

Indicators of physical abuse

  • Cuts, lacerations, punctures, wounds.
  • Bruises, welts, discolorations, grip marks.
  • Any unexplained injury that doesn't fit with the given explanation of the injury.
  • Any injury incompatible with the person's history of unexplained injuries.
  • Any injury which has not been properly cared for (sometimes injuries are hidden on areas of the body normally covered by clothing).
  • Poor skin condition or poor skin hygiene.
  • Dehydration and/or malnourishment without illness-related cause.
  • Unexplained loss of weight.
  • Burns, possibly caused by cigarettes, caustics, acids or friction from ropes or chains, being dragged on the ground.
  • Overmedication.

Indicators of sexual abuse or exploitation

  • Bleeding, bruising, infection, scarring or irritation to a person's genitals, rectum, mouth or breasts.
  • Genital pain or itching, sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing.
  • Difficulty walking or sitting.
  • Changes in personal hygiene.
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Ongoing, unexplained medical problems like stomachaches and headaches.
  • Depression, withdrawal or excessive crying spells.
  • Sudden avoidance or fear of specific people, specific genders or situations.
  • Any significant behavior change.
  • Acting out, attention seeking, aggression.
  • Changes in work performance, non-participation in work or social activities.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Self-destructive behavior.
  • Sexually inappropriate behaviors, compulsive masturbation, promiscuity.
  • Hints about sexual activity and a new or detailed understanding of sexual behavior.
  • Urinating or defecating in clothing.

Indicators of verbal mistreatment/abuse

  • Humiliating, insulting or threatening language directed at the person.
  • Signs of helplessness, hesitation to talk openly, fear, withdrawal, depression, denial, agitation, anger, confusion or disorientation in the person.
  • Non-compliance or overly compliant.
See also Reporting abuse 

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