Abuse in Public Services

by tylercook on November 25, 2013

Shocking news stories give the impression that abuse from public care workers is frighteningly commonplace. However, a report by the Winnipeg government says that the majority of abuse involving older adult victims comes from family members. Similarly, the United States based non-profit organization Do Something says that more than two thirds of child abuse occurs within the family. Despite reforms over the years though, abuse by care workers in a public role is still a very serious problem, and everyone should be aware of how to spot it.


A report by the United Kingdom based charity NSPCC found that children were very unlikely to be abused by child minders, and by comparison, were far more likely to be abused by teachers (although family members and family friends and associates were far more likely still). Additionally, Hofstra University researcher Charol Shakeshaft asserts that children are “100 times” more at risk of abuse by teachers than priests.

Relative to the above categories, child abuse from health care professionals is minimal.

Elders and Vulnerable Adults

Health care workers abuse the elderly more often than they target children, although older people tend to have more contact with these workers than other demographics. A UK government (National Health Service) report suggested that in abuse of ‘vulnerable adults,’ 29 percent of those abused were victims of the health care staff. A higher number were abused in care homes than in hospitals.

For both older adults and children, neglect is by far the most common type of abuse, accounting for between two thirds and three quarters of cases. Physical abuse is next for both groups. It is closely matched by sexual abuse in children; sexual abuse of the elderly is rare. When it comes to abuse by public workers though, neglect is more likely to be a problem for elders than children.

Spotting abuse

Signs of abuse are similar in children and vulnerable adults. Along with physical signs — particularly regularly occurring injuries — victims will become withdrawn, quieter, and less likely to enjoy things as they did before. They may become angry or emotional and require increased or decreased attention from others. Their diet and appetite may change, and in the case of sexual abuse, they could become less sexually comfortable, or more overtly sexual and sexually aggressive. Nightmares, new physical habits, and strange reactions to the mention or physical presence of a certain person — possibly the abuser — are warning signs of abuse. A reduction in personal hygiene, especially for elders, is another indication.

Taking action

A major reason why abuse goes unreported is fear of not being believed, or of the potential consequences an abuser may inflict. This is particularly true in cases involving public workers, because they will be seen as being in a position of authority and therefore in a better position to be believed than a vulnerable person. Looking out for signs of abuse is an essential step for monitoring loved ones, but greater transparency about abuse is also needed in order to convince people that the moral majority is on the side of victims. This can be done by making life less hazardous for whistle-blowers who report abuse, as victims will see the precedent.


This article was provided by Sandy Wallace, aspiring lawyer with a concern for civil rights and health. One rising, overlooked problem plaguing our society is Elder Abuse. It you witness such acts or have become victim of it yourself, Sandy recommends seeking immediate legal help.




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