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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Annex A

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Annex A: Definitions of Abuse

The following are examples of abuse; this list is not exclusive.


A form of maltreatment of a child or adult at risk. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child or adult at risk by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children or adults at risk may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting by those known to them or, more rarely, by others. Abuse can take place wholly online, or technology may be used to facilitate offline abuse. Children or adults at risk may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children.

Physical Abuse

A form of abuse which may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise causing physical harm to a child or adult at risk. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness in a child or an adult at risk.

Emotional Abuse/Psychological Abuse

The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child or adult at risk such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the individual’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to the individual that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the individual opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child’s developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyber bullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

Sexual Abuse

Involves forcing or enticing a child or adult at risk to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the individual is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children or adults at risk, in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging them to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming an individual in preparation for abuse Sexual abuse can take place online, and technology can be used to facilitate offline abuse. Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.


The persistent failure to meet a child or adult at risk’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of their health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

  • provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment)
  • protect a child or adult at risk from physical and emotional harm or danger
  • ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers)
  • ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child or adult at risk’s basic emotional needs.  


This covers a wide range of behaviours such as neglecting to care for one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding.

Financial or material abuse

This can include theft, fraud, internet scamming and the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits. It also includes coercion in relation to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements, including wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is categorised by any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and financial abuse.

Modern Slavery

Modern Slavery can take many forms including the trafficking of people, forced labour, servitude and slavery. Children (those aged under 18) are considered victims of trafficking, whether or not they have been coerced, deceived or paid to secure their compliance. They need only have been recruited, transported, received or harboured for the purpose of exploitation.

Discriminatory Abuse

Discriminatory and oppressive attitudes towards people on the grounds of disability, gender and gender identity and reassignment, age, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, and political beliefs.
It may be a feature of any form of abuse and manifests itself as physical abuse/assault, sexual abuse/assault, financial abuse/theft, neglect and psychological abuse/harassment. It includes verbal abuse and racist, sexist, homophobic or ageist comments, or jokes or any other form of harassment. It also includes not responding to dietary needs and not providing appropriate spiritual support.


The Prevent duty was introduced under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act (2015) so that education providers, including universities to have regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism or extremism. This is sometimes referred to as being at risk of radicalisation.

For further information see:

•    Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Children Partnership Board (CPSCPB)
•    Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Adults Board