The 8 Different Types of Abuse

Child Abuse, Adult Abuse, Elder Abuse, and More

Abuse is cruelty, violence, or demeaning or invasive behavior from one person to another person or animal, causing physical, sexual, and psychological or emotional harm. Anyone, of any age, gender, race, or background can be a victim of abuse.

It is estimated that child abuse or neglect impacts 1 in 7 children in the United States per year. Similarly, it is estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in the United States have been injured by an intimate partner.

This article will explain the different types of abuse, causes, risks, treatments, how to cope, and how to report abuse.

Types of Abuse - Illustration by Laura Porter

Verywell / Laura Porter

Who Is Affected By Abuse?

Abuse is when one person harms another person or an animal physically, sexually, psychosocially, or emotionally with cruel, violent, demeaning, or invasive behaviors. Children, adults, older adults, and anyone can be victims of abuse. Additionally, there are multiple different types of abuse.

Child Abuse

Child abuse and neglect are when a parent or caregiver harms a child physically, sexually, psychologically, or by failing to care for their needs. This is a serious problem around the world, including in the United States. It ranges in severity and can be fatal. Nearly 2,000 children in the United States died as a result of abuse or neglect in 2019 alone.

What Is Neglect?

Neglect is when a parent or caregiver does not provide care that is needed. Examples of neglect include:

  • Not providing adequate housing, food, education, clothing, or access to Medicare care
  • Ignoring a child's emotional needs, such as when they are crying or experiencing mental health issues
  • Allowing the child to witness violence or abuse
  • Showing disregard for the child's wellbeing

Adult Abuse

Adult abuse is similar to child abuse in that it involves one person harming another, but the victim is an adult. It can be physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional in nature. A common form of adult abuse is intimate partner violence, which is when one person in a close relationship causes physical, psychological, or sexual harm to the other person in the relationship, their partner.

However, adult abuse is not limited to intimate partners and can be the abuse of any adult.

Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is physical, psychological, sexual, or material harm or neglect by one person to another person who is 65 years old or older. Older adults without family or friends, or those who are disabled or have memory problems, are at an increased risk of experiencing abuse. Although more women are affected, older adult men can be abused as well.

Elder abuse is all-too-common in nursing homes and assisted care facilities. As many as 1 in 3 adults have been victims of abuse in nursing homes by some estimates.

Types of Abuse

Children, adults, and older people can experience different types of abuse. Some experience a combination of types. For example, an adult may experience abuse by their partner (intimate partner violence) in the form of sexual, psychological, and physical harm repeatedly over the course of years. While each type of abuse is different and can range in severity, frequency, and duration, they can all have a significant impact on overall wellbeing.

The eight types of abuse are:

  • Physical abuse: When one person harms another person and causes injury to the body.
  • Sexual abuse: Any form of sexual violence or exploitation.
  • Psychological or emotional abuse: When one person purposely harms the mental wellbeing of another person in a non-physical way, sometimes referred to as nonphysical abuse.
  • Financial or material abuse: The misuse or taking of money, assets, or belongings of another person for personal gain, sometimes by coercion, threats, or deception.
  • Domestic violence or intimate partner violence: When a person physically harms their partner.
  • Discriminatory abuse: When one person treats another person differently based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or other characteristics, causing harm in favoring others, creating disadvantages, harassment, victimization, or other actions.
  • Neglect or abandonment: When a person responsible for the care of another person does not provide the needed care or leaves them without care. This can be the neglect of a child, older person, disabled or ill person, or anyone in need of care.
  • Workplace violence or organizational/institutional abuse: Intimidation or physical force relating to employment and the employment environment.

Causes

People may abuse other people for different reasons, including substance use and mental health conditions. Abusive people may have experienced abuse themselves. The cycle of abuse is when children learn abusive behaviors from being abused or witnessing abuse. Additionally, children of families with lower socioeconomic status are five times more likely to be abused or neglected, which may be partially related to increased levels of stress.

Abuse Is Never the Victim’s Fault

Regardless of the reason, abuse is never justified, and it is never the fault of the victim.

Effects

The primary effects of abuse are physical harm, psychological and emotional harm, and sometimes even death. Physical abuse can be so severe that it results in death, and there is a link between abuse, including emotional and psychological abuse, and suicide. Victims of abuse may develop depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Sexual abuse may lead to unintended pregnancy.

Additionally, abuse can lead to trauma bonding, or traumatic bonding. This is when victims of abuse form emotional attachments with their abusers and experience relationships with an imbalance of power and ongoing harm.

Treatment

Treatment for abuse depends on the type of abuse, severity, and harm that is caused. Types of care include:

  • Medical care to help treat injuries such as cuts and broken bones.
  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy), including trauma-focused psychotherapies, are used to treat psychological and emotional harm, including learning how to live well after abuse.

Suicide Prevention Helpline

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Cope

Beyond medical treatments and talk therapy, there are many things victims of abuse can do to cope with the effects and improve overall wellbeing and quality of life after abuse.

It is important to prioritize both physical and mental health by getting enough quality sleep, managing stress, and relaxing throughout the day. This promotes physical and mental healing. Regular exercise and taking part in a creative outlet such as a hobby can help, too.

It is also important to be aware of thoughts and work on developing healthy self-talk. This is a skill that can be learned and practiced. A trained mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist can help you with this process.

How to Report Abuse

Any type of abuse can be reported by contacting local law enforcement. Additionally, many states have systems and phone numbers specifically for reporting abuse. If there is an emergency situation, call 9-1-1 immediately for emergency response. There are many other resources available to help in reporting abuse, creating a safety plan, and leaving abusive situations, including hotlines specifically for domestic violence and abuse, child abuse, and sexual assault.

Domestic Violence Helpline

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Child Abuse Helpline

If you are a victim of child abuse or know someone who might be, call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 to speak with a professional crisis counselor.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Sexual Assault Helpline

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member at a local RAINN affiliate.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Summary

Abuse is harm done by one person to another. It can be physical, psychological or emotional, and sexual. Anyone can be abused, including children, adults, and older people. Other types of abuse include financial or material abuse, domestic violence or intimate partner violence, discriminatory abuse, neglect or abandonment, and workplace violence or organizational/industrial abuse.

People who are abused are at an increased risk of adverse effects such as depression and PTSD. The physical and mental effects of abuse are treated with medical care and talk therapy. There are also coping methods to help, such as relaxation, stress management, and thought management.

Abuse can be reported by contacting local authorities or national hotlines, and 9-1-1 can be called for emergency situations. Support is available for abusive situations and overcoming the long-term effects of abuse after leaving abusive situations.

A Word From Verywell

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, help is available. It may be difficult to find a way out, but there is a way out.

For a domestic violence or abuse situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you suspect child abuse or potential harm, call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453. For sexual assault support, call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

There can also be many feelings that accompany abuse, such as shame and guilt. Remember, abuse is never the fault of the victim. A therapist can help you overcome emotional challenges following abuse, and it is possible to find relief, both physically and emotionally.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you help someone who is going through abuse?

    There are several things that can be done to help someone who is going through abuse. First, make yourself available to talk with them when they can safely, away from the abuser. Encourage and empower them by telling them you are there for them and offering to help in specific ways. Provide them with abuse resources and professionals that they can contact for help and support them in dealing with or leaving the abusive situation. Finally, let them make their own decisions, even if they decide, possibly, for now, not to leave.

  • How can you protect a child from abuse?

    Any suspected child abuse or harm to children can and should be reported to a child protection agency at the local, county, or state level. Additionally, call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 to speak with a professional crisis counselor.

  • Why do abuse victims feel guilty?

    It is common for victims of abuse to feel guilty. This can be the result of thoughts that they should have done something to prevent or stop the abuse, or that they did something wrong to deserve the abuse. These thoughts are not true; abuse is never the fault of the victim.

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21 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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