Understanding Abuse

Avatar for Hadyn Luke Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 14th of November 2023 Hadyn Luke 14/11/2023


Understanding Abuse

Abuse refers to harmful or injurious treatment of another human being that may include physical, sexual, verbal, psychological/emotional, intellectual, or spiritual maltreatment. There are many forms of abuse and neglect such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, domestic abuse, discriminatory abuse, financial abuse and neglect.

Roles and Responsibilities

All fitness professionals have a responsibility to be aware of the procedures to be followed in cases of suspect child/vulnerable adult abuse. Instructors in regular contact with children/vulnerable adults are well placed to notice signs of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, behavioural change or failure to develop as expected.

Definitions of Abuse

Somebody may abuse or neglect a child or vulnerable adult by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children or vulnerable adults may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting; by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger.

The following definitions are taken from Working Together to Safeguard Children (Department of Health 1999- updated 2006)

Physical Abuse

Physical injury to a child or vulnerable adult including those with disabilities where is definite knowledge or a reasonable suspicion that the injury was inflicted or knowingly not prevented. This may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, scalding, drowning, suffocating, unexplained bruising, injuries, cuts, breaks, fractures or otherwise causing physical harm to a child or vulnerable adult. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer feigns the symptoms of, or deliberately causes, ill health to a child or vulnerable adult.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuses involves forcing or enticing a child or vulnerable adult to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child or vulnerable adult is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative or non-penetrative acts. They may include non-contact activities, such as involving children or vulnerable adults in looking at, being involved in the production of, pornographic material or watching sexual activities, or encouraging children or vulnerable adults to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional ill treatment of a child or vulnerable adult so as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s or vulnerable adult’s emotional development. It may involve telling children or vulnerable adults that they are worthless, unloved or inadequate. The abuse might the form of threatening behaviour, discriminatory remarks or saying that the child or vulnerable adult is valued only if they meet the needs of another person.


Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s or vulnerable adult’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, which is likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s or vulnerable adult’s health or development. It may involve a parent or carer failing to provide adequate food, shelter, hygiene and clothing. It could involve failure to protect a child or vulnerable adult from physical harm or danger, or the failure to ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment. It may also include neglect of, or lack of responsiveness to a child’s or vulnerable adult’s basic emotional needs.


Bullying can include children, older or vulnerable adults and those with disabilities. Bullying is a form of abuse. It comprises repeated acts over time, that involve a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group, abusing those who are less powerful. The power imbalance may be social power and/or physical power. The victim of bullying is sometimes referred to as a target. Bullying consists of three basic types of abuse – emotional, verbal and physical.


It is very important that anyone concerned, who suspects the abuse of a child or vulnerable adult, maintains confidentiality at all times. Other members of staff will be informed on a need-to-know-basis.

It is appreciated than an instructor who receives an allegation of abuse or suspects that a colleague is abusing a child or vulnerable adult within their place of work might face serious personal and professional dilemmas. Nevertheless, all instructors have an overriding responsibility to adhere to the principles of the Children Acts 1989 and 2004. This clearly places the legal duty upon instructors to raise allegations and suspicions to ensure they are fully investigated and appropriate steps are taken to promote the welfare of children and vulnerable adults and protect them from harm.

Maintaining confidentiality of information relating to abuse requires all records to be securely filed and not disclosed to any other party without the clients consent. Any written reports should be given to the appropriate statutory agencies and /or their representatives. Statutory agencies include Ofsted, Local Authorities, Police, Local Safeguarding Children Boards and the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

Disclosure And Barring Service

(formerly Criminal Records Bureau Disclosures)

Any organisation working with children or vulnerable adults should use the DBS to provide information upon which to assess an instructor’s suitability for appointment to a position which requires working in a position of trust. These checks will have to be up to date and required for each facility you work for. Details of these can be found online.

Signs Of Abuse

Distinguishing between observed signs and indicators of abuse can include:

  • Personality changes such as becoming insecure or clinging – sexual abuse.
  • Regressing to younger behaviour patterns such as thumb sucking or bringing out discarded cuddly toys – sexual abuse.
  • Sudden loss of appetite or compulsive overeating – sexual abuse.
  • Improbable excuses or refusal to explain injuries – physical abuse.
  • Wearing clothes to cover injuries, even in hot weather – physical abuse.
  • Inappropriate response to pain (“I deserve this”) – emotional abuse.
  • Neurotic behaviour (rocking, hair twisting, self-mutilation) – emotional abuse.
  • Extremes of passivity or aggression – emotional abuse.
  • Constant tiredness – neglect.
  • Poor state of clothing – neglect.
  • Emaciation (extreme weight loss) – neglect.
  • Untreated medical problems – neglect.
  • No social relationships – neglect.

If you suspect abuse you should report it to the Police or Social Services.

It is preferable that you identify yourself and give details. However, if you feel unsure and would like to discuss the situation, you should call the child welfare services. You can speak to these organisations (and the police and social services) anonymously.

Some organisations will have a child protection officer in the workplace, an appointed person or senior management who deals with suspected abuse.

Given the damage abuse causes children, it is up to the adults around them to take responsibility for stopping it.

If a child tells you about abuse:

  • Stay calm and be reassuring.
  • Find a quiet place to talk.
  • Believe in what you are being told.
  • Listen, but do not press for information.
  • Say that you are glad that the child told you.
  • If it will help the child to cope, say that the abuser has a problem.
  • Say that you will do your best to protect and support the child.
  • If necessary, seek medical help and contact the police or social services.
  • If the child has told another adult, such as a teach or school nurse, contact them. Their advice, may make it easier to help the child or vulnerable young adult.
  • Determine if this incident may affect how the child reacts at school. It may be advisable to liaise with the child’s teacher, school nurse or head teacher.
  • Acknowledge the fact that the child may have angry, sad or even guilty feelings about what happened, but stress that the abuse was not the child’s fault.
  • You may consider using their school as a resource, as the staff should have a network of agencies they work with, and be able to give you advice.
  • You can contact official agencies or self-help groups. If you are concerned about what action may be taken, ask before you proceed.

Statutory Agencies Responsible for Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable adults

  • Ofsted: Inspect and regulate the care of children and young people.
  • Local Authority (Social Services): Safeguard the welfare of children.
  • Police: Mechanisms for agreeing how organisations will co-operate to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
  • Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCB’s): Agree how the relevant organisations in each local area co-operate to safeguard the welfare of children.
  • Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA): Help prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults.

Fitness Organisations Policies And Procedures

In relation to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, a fitness facility should have the following reporting procedures in place:

  1. Identify who within the organisation is responsible for dealing with allegations or suspicions of abuse and the correct protocol for reporting such suspicions or abuse.
  2. Check DBS records are available. Each disclosure will show the date on which it was printed, DBS checks do not carry a pre-determined period of validity because a conviction or other matter could be recorded against the subject at any time after it is issued. It is up to the facility to determine how long a DBS disclosure is deemed to be valid.
  3. Determine who the appropriate persons are within the organisation and the outside agencies to report possible abuse to.
  4. Have an internal code of behaviour policy that includes the appropriate conduct and relationships with children and young adults.
  5. Internal anti-bullying policies and procedures must be in place.
  6. Internal complaints procedures for customers and employees to follow.
  7. Any additional training required to support children, older/vulnerable adults and persons with a disability should be made available to staff.
  8. When reporting suspected abuse, record in writing the details of the child/ vulnerable adult, what has been said, heard or seen.
  9. Pass on any matters of concern to the Child Protection Manager, social services or senior manager.
  10. Maintain written reports, ensure they are locked away and confidentiality is maintained.

Protecting Yourself

Procedures you must follow to protect yourself from accusations of abuse:

  • Keep up to date DBS checks.
  • Know and apply the internal safeguarding policy and procedures relating specifically to physical contact and being alone with participants.
  • Ensure you record any evidence of possible abuse carefully and to include this in any reports you write.
  • Obtain informed consent for the child or vulnerable adult prior to embarking on any work with them.
  • Obtain parents’ or guardians’ consent for under 18s.
  • Avoid spending time alone with children away from others
  • Always wear a uniform (where provided)
  • Never take photographs of children and young people without the permission of the parents, carers and the facility operators

The following can be contacted if help is required:

  • Police
  • Social Services
  • Samaritans
  • National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Children First
  • Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC)
  • Child Line

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