What are the signs of abuse, neglect and exploitation?

August 14, 2018 by DRO's Abuse and Neglect Team / abuse and neglect

According to the 2015-16 NCI Adult Consumer Survey, 21% of respondents indicated there was at least one place where they felt afraid or scared. However, 96% of respondents indicated they had someone who they could turn to for help if they were afraid or scared. --National Core Indicators (NCI), 2015-16

As Ohio’s federally and state-designated Protection & Advocacy system for people with disabilities in Ohio, Disability Rights Ohio has the authority to go into any facility where people with disabilities live to investigate abuse. In the last year alone, we have investigated and reported facilities for unsanitary conditions, disrepair, sexual and physical abuse, restraint, seclusion and troubling staff behavior. As a result, the facilities have either closed or undergone significant organizational changes.

Reports of abuse can come from anyone – caregivers, service providers, loved ones, friends, neighbors, members of the community or even an anonymous source. Our Abuse and Neglect Team has assembled this list to help you spot some signs of abuse, neglect or exploitation:

A person being physically abused may:

  • Have unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, black eyes or other injuries;
  • Provide inconsistent explanations for injuries;
  • Be fearful of certain people or situations;
  • Express feelings of shame, embarrassment or depression;
  • Have imprint injuries (e.g. marks shaped like fingers, hands or belts);
  • Have numerous injuries at various stages and degrees of healing;
  • Have injuries in locations not commonly associated with accidents;
  • Have difficulty walking or standing; 
  • Have undergone changes in appetite or weight;
  • Have frequent stomachaches or headaches;
  • Act withdrawn or significantly change their behavior;
  • Disclose abuse indirectly by saying things like, “She was right, I should have been easier to work with the first time around,” or, “He doesn’t know his own strength”;
  • Avoid eye contact;
  • Refer questions to the person suspected of abusing them or search for approval to converse with others;
  • Change their sleep pattern;
  • Refuse to shower or change clothes.

A person being neglected may:

  • Be malnourished, continuously hungry or have recent weight loss;
  • Live in unsafe or dirty conditions (bugs, dirty sheets, faulty utilities);
  • Display signs that they have not been bathed;
  • Have mannerisms that seem detached or flat;
  • Appear fearful or distrustful of authority figures;
  • Wear dirty, torn or unkempt clothing.

A person being financially exploited or abused may:

  • Open or close financial accounts;
  • Have unexplained withdrawals of either large or small sums of money;
  • Have spending habits that are inconsistent or unusual for the individual;
  • Have unpaid bills;
  • Express anxiety or confusion about personal finances or transactions;
  • Avoid conversations regarding financial matters.

If you suspect someone with a disability is being abused, please contact Disability Rights Ohio’s Intake Department.

Additional information about this topic can be found on DRO’s Abuse and Neglect page and in the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities’ Health and Welfare Alerts from February 2017 and February 2018.

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