According to research by Red C on behalf of the National Safeguarding Committee (NSC), one in two people claim to have experienced vulnerable adult abuse to either themselves (as a vulnerable adult) or somebody close to them.
Those aged between 18 and 24 are significantly more likely to claim experience of abuse of vulnerable adults.
The survey of more than 1,000 people shows widespread public concern exists that vulnerable adults are open to and experiencing physical, emotional, psychological, and financial abuse.
Emotional abuse is the most common, with over one in three respondents saying they have experienced such abuse. Physical attacks of vulnerable adults have been witnessed/suspected by one third of people, with the highest incidence from within the home.
One of the key findings of the research was that one third of the population feel vulnerable adult abuse to be widespread.
Nearly 40% of people think such adults are badly treated in society.
A lack of clarity regarding the point of contact for reporting vulnerable adult maltreatment was also highlighted, with one in three raising this as an issue. Those aged under 35 were found to be significantly less likely to feel they know the appropriate avenue.
NSC chairwoman Patricia Rickard Clarke said the findings are “very worrying”.
“The members of this committee have come together with one objective in mind: To ensure that adults who may be vulnerable are safeguarded and that there is a zero tolerance of abuse,” she said.
“These research findings indicate a very worrying prevalence of vulnerable adult abuse, uncertainty over what constitutes psychological and financial abuse, and a lack of knowledge of what to do when you become aware of the abuse of vulnerable adults.”
Ms Rickard Clarke said the results will provide a baseline against which progress in developing public awareness and changing attitudes and behaviour can be measured.
“We are now planning a public awareness campaign on the issue of abuse of vulnerable adults, and we would urge the Government to introduce legislation which would provide for independent advocacy on behalf of vulnerable adults and a national safeguarding authority with a dedicated budget,” she said.
The junior minister with responsibility for disability, Finian McGrath, said the study revealed a “startling prevalence of abuse of vulnerable adults”.
“Society and Government have a duty of care towards all of its citizens, particularly those who are more vulnerable,” said Mr McGrath. “Measures to tackle this issue are not the preserve of any one government department. This is a cross-departmental issue and I intend to work across departments to agree measures to protect our vulnerable adults from abuse. Any vulnerable adult can be subject to abuse.”