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Abuse, neglect and harm

Disabled people are entitled to live a life free from violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect. Find out about your rights.

Recognising and responding

Abuse is a violation of a person’s human rights. Human rights belong to all people without discrimination. Disabled people are entitled to live the life they choose free from violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect.

Disabled people are much more likely to experience abuse than the general population, according to a New Zealand research study (Roguski 2013). It also showed that disabled people face a number of challenges that make it more difficult to report and escape abuse including:

  • reports not being taken seriously
  • fear of losing supports
  • previous experience of not being believed
  • communication difficulties
  • a general lack of respect towards them
  • not understanding their own rights.

Abusers can be anyone.

They can be the very people the disabled person relies on - frequently it is those they are in proximity to on a regular basis, including family members, intimate partners, other people living with them in group homes and care settings, personal care attendants; transportation providers. The person experiencing the abuse is likely to know the person committing it.

What is abuse?

Abuse is about the misuse of power and control that one person has over another. Abuse can occur in any relationship disabled people have, such as with support workers, supervisors, managers, family members, carers, other disabled people, and community members. Abusers are individuals who have different levels of power over people’s lives and who use their power to abuse or neglect others. Abuse can occur anywhere and include:

Financial abuse

The misuse of a person’s assets, property, possessions, and finances without their consent.

Emotional/psychological abuse

Actions or behaviours that reject, isolate, intimidate or frighten by threats, or the witnessing of family violence - including removing or threats to hinder or remove access to any aid, equipment or other support, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, isolation or withdrawal from services or supportive networks.

Physical abuse

Actions that involve the inappropriate use of physical contact or force against a person - including hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, misuse of medication, restraint, or inappropriate sanctions.

Sexual abuse

Actual or attempted unwanted sexual actions that are otherwise forced on a person against their will or without their consent, through the use of physical force, intimidation and/or coercion - including rape and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented, or could not consent to or was pressured into consenting.


The failure to care adequately for a disabled person to the extent that the health, well-being and development of the person is significantly impaired or at risk - including ignoring medical or physical care needs, failure to provide access to appropriate health, social care or educational services, the withholding of the necessaries of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating.


The lack of self-care to an extent that it threatens the disabled person’s health and safety – includes failure to seek help or access services to meet care and support needs and inability to avoid self-harm.

Discriminatory abuse

Actions based on a person’s race, sex, disability, faith, sexual orientation, or age; other forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment or hate crime/incident. Discriminatory abuse can lead to people being excluded from mainstream activities.

Institutional abuse

Neglect and poor professional practice. This may take the form of isolated incidents of poor or unsatisfactory professional practice, at one end of the spectrum, through to pervasive ill treatment or gross misconduct at the other. Repeated instances may be an indication of more serious problems.

Family violence or abuse

Action that involves a pattern of behaviour that includesphysical, psychological (including financial), or sexual abuse of a disabled person by a person that is, or has been, in a family relationship, such as a partner, ex-partner or family members, and includes the witnessing of family violence. Abusive behaviour is coercive or controlling and /or causes the disabled person harm (or risk of).

Abuse can take many shapes and forms:

  • active and passive
  • may consist of a single act or repeated acts
  • multiple forms
  • a failure to act (neglect).

Warning signs of abuse

Read the following information about the warning signs that someone may be being abused.

Read more about the signs of abuse

Preventing Abuse - speaking up and speaking out

Taking action before abuse occurs is critical to ending abuse. Identifying when a person is at risk of abuse is crucial when people do not or cannot complain, such as a child or vulnerable adult e.g. someone who does not communicate verbally and/or cannot remove themselves from an unsafe situation.

Actions that can prevent abuse include:

  • empowering disabled people to speak up for their rights
  • building the knowledge, skills and confidence of disabled people to make decisions in their own best interests
  • building the knowledge, skills and confidence of disabled people to recognise abuse, who to tell, and how to tell
  • building the knowledge, skills and confidence of providers, the workforce, and the wider community to recognise and respond to abuse of disabled people
  • supporting and empowering people to exercise choice and control, and participate in their community
  • having family/whānau, friends, carers and community connections who know the person well and can notice if something is wrong, can speak up if there are concerns, and can support the person to speak up if something goes wrong, if things change or if they don’t feel safe.
  • ensuring every disabled child and adult has someone in their lives who is committed to their well-being and care, and who is independent of service provision
  • reporting situations where someone is at risk of abuse or is being abused.

Responding to an incident of abuse

When abuse is suspected the safety of the individual experiencing abuse is paramount. The first response is to keep the alleged perpetrator away from the victim.

All abuse is wrong. Tell someone.

Contact the Police immediately if you suspect abuse. In an emergency call 111.

Are you concerned about your safety or the safety of someone? Do you think someone is at risk of abuse or is being abused? Contact the Mana Whaikaha On Call Connector on 027 236 6145.

Getting help

It’s Not OK Family Violence information line

phone 0800 456 450
7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Visit the It's Not OK Family Violence website (external website)

2SHINE national help line

phone 0508 744 633
7 days a week from 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Abuse & Rape Crisis Support (ARCS) Horowhenua

Visit the Horowhenua District Council website (external website)

Abuse & Rape Crisis Support (ARCS) Manawatu

To provide support to survivors of sexual violence and their families.

Linton Court, 10 Linton Street, Palmerston North

Phone: 06 356 5868

Email: admin@arcsmanawatu.org.nz

Mon - Fri: 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Appointment recommended. All services free of charge.

No referral required.  

Visit the ARCS Manawatu website (external website)

Womens Refuge Levin

58 Bath Street (corner of Bath and Queen Street)

Phone: 06 368 3640

Crisis phone 06 356 5585

Palmerston North Women’s Refuge

10 Linton Street

PO BOX 578, Palmerston North

Crisis phone: 06 356 5585

Office phone: 06 354 5355

Te Roopu Whakaruruhau O Nga Wahine Maori (Un-Affiliated)

Crisis phone: 06 355 0626

Office phone: 06 355 0626

Office phone: 06 356 7985


Shakti provides culturally specialist, confidential support services to women and their children of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origins. We can be reached 24/7 through our 0800 crisis-line

phone 0800 SHAKTI (0800 742 584)

Health and Disability Advocacy Service

A free service that operates independently from all health and disability service providers, government agencies and the Health and Disability Commissioner.

freephone 0800 555 050
email advocacy@advocacy.org.nz

Finding out more

Easy Read resources

People First has these easy read resources:

  • Keeping Safe Feeling Safe Say No to Abuse
  • Bullying, Abuse and Neglect Easy Read Reporting Form
  • Violence and domestic abuse Information for disabled people

View these Easy Read resources on the People First website (external website)

Other resources

View information on violence and domestic abuse of disabled people from Are You OK (external website)

View the communication toolkit and resources from Speak Up and be Safe from Abuse (external website)