Many vulnerable adults have to rely on others to help them with basic day-to-day living. Whilst the majority have excellent care provision, some are at risk of harm. This could be due to another person, or people, deliberately taking advantage of the adult. But it could also be the adult who is unintentionally putting themself at risk, simply because they don’t have the right level of support in place.

Harm can take the following forms:

  • financial
  • physical
  • psychological
  • sexual
  • neglect.

Financial harm

Vulnerable adults can be easy prey for thieves and bullies. Whether it’s taking a valuable piece of jewellery or a few pounds from a purse, it’s still stealing and is against the law.
There are also less obvious forms of financial harm. A person can be pressured into giving someone money because they have been made to feel sorry for them or obliged to them. In extreme cases, people have been pressured into changing their Will and signing away their property.

Physical harm

This is when a person deliberately hurts someone else by punching, kicking, slapping, or shaking. Making aggressive physical contact with someone is known as assault. It is against the law to hurt someone intentionally.

Psychological harm

Words do hurt. Especially when used to frighten, threaten, humiliate or control another person, or making them feel isolated. Vulnerable people can be targets for others taking advantage of them; for example, using their home and belongings or pressuring them into being involved in illegal or socially unacceptable behaviour.

Sexual harm

Sexual activity requires permission, known as ‘consent’. However, in order to give consent a person must fully understand what they are consenting to. They also need to understand that they have the right to refuse to do anything they don’t feel comfortable with – at any time – even if they have previously given permission.
It is a serious crime to coerce, threaten or force someone to engage in any type of sexual activity.


Neglect is when someone is not being cared for properly, either by themselves or by the person or authority responsible for them. A neglected person may not have enough food to eat or be living somewhere that’s cold, dirty or damp, or they may not be fully dressed or appear to have washed. They may be being denied important medical and social care. It is important the everybody gets the professional help they need, especially if they take medication.

Self-harm and self-neglect

Self-neglect is the inability to perform activities of daily living, even though the adult understands the need to do them. It can include an inability to recognise unsafe living conditions. However, adults have a right to make their own decisions, including the use of alcohol and drugs, even if that means they choose to remain in situations or indulge in behaviour which others consider inappropriate. Without any additional vulnerability, such as an illness or disability, adult protection intervention would not normally be appropriate.

Where harm can happen

A person can be subjected to harm anywhere: In their home, where they work, in a public place – often by the people closest to them. It can even happen in the very places tasked with the responsibility of protecting them such as a care home or day centre.

Are you (or someone you know) at risk of being harmed?

Help is available