For families and supporters of people with a learning disability......
For information and to increase awareness


Physical and sexual abuse is more common in people with learning difficulties than in others. This is made worse because people with learning difficulties are often not understood, believed and/or taken seriously (Sinason/Hopper 2002 - n.b. begins with a blank page).

Abuse involves betrayal, shame, secrecy, stigmatization and self-blame. These problems need to be treated through therapy. (Sinason/Hopper 2002).

Families and professionals need to be aware of these problems and watch for behavioural signs which may indicate this is happening.





What behaviour signs do you need to watch for?

  • becoming quiet and withdrawn
  • being aggressive or angry for no obvious reason
  • looking unkempt, dirty or thinner than usual
  • sudden changes in their normal character, e.g. depressed or tearful
  • physical signs of abuse, such as bruises, wounds and fractures
  • the same injuries happening more than once
  • not wanting to be left on their own or alone with particular people
  • being unusually light-hearted and insisting there's nothing wrong
  • unusual financial problems.

    (NHS Choices – vulnerable people).

What should you do?

If you feel someone you know is showing signs of abuse, talk to them to see if there's anything you can do to help. If they're being abused they may not want to talk about it straight away, especially if they've become used to making excuses for their injuries or change in personality. Don't ignore your concerns, though. That could allow any abuse to carry on.

Contact the person’s GP and social worker or ask for the local council Adult Protection or Safeguarding Co-ordinator. Some forms of abuse are crimes so the police should be informed if you suspect this.

(NHS Choices – vulnerable people).


Action Against Cruelty

Information on preventing, recognising and responding to cruelty and harassment of people with learning disabilities.

Action Against Cruelty


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