Adult Abuse & Neglect

We respond to reports of abuse or neglect of adults who cannot obtain help on their own because of certain physical or mental conditions. We can address a range of health and safety issues and help in informal or formal ways.

Defining Abuse and Neglect


Abuse is the deliberate mistreatment of an adult which causes physical, mental, or emotional harm or damage to their property or their assets. There are different types of abuse, and it can happen to anyone, at any age, in any culture, no matter what his or her gender, income, or religion. 


Neglect is the failure to provide necessary care, assistance, guidance, or attention causing the person physical, mental, or emotional harm. Self-neglect is when an adult fails to take care of their own basic needs to the point that causes the person physical, mental, or emotional harm, or significant loss of their assets.

Getting help and who to call

Is it an emergency situation? Call 9-1-1. If you discover a crime or dangerous situation occurring with an adult, call 9-1-1 to get help immediately.

Seniors Advocate Line

The Seniors Advocate Line is a toll-free phone service that provides seniors and their families with support for health-care related issues.

Available Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-877-952-3181 or 250-952-3181 in Victoria.

Seniors Abuse & Information Line (SAIL)  

The Seniors Abuse & Information Line (SAIL) toll-free phone line is a safe place for older adults, and those who care about them, to talk to someone about situations where they feel they are being abused or mistreated, or to receive information about elder abuse prevention. 1-866-437-1940 (toll free) 

Reporting adult abuse, neglect or self neglect

Reporting crimes to the police

Many types of adult abuse or neglect are crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada. If you have been a victim of crime or you are concerned about someone you know, contact your local police.

Reporting to the Public Guardian and Trustee of BC
Assessment and Investigation Services takes referrals and reviews allegations of financial abuse of vulnerable adults in the community to determine if substitute decision-making authority is required or to investigate the misuse of substitute decision-making authority such as a Power of Attorney. 

Reporting to a designated agency

Any resident of British Columbia may report concerns about adult abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult to a Designated Agency when the adult cannot seek help on their own.  

There is no mandatory reporting of adult abuse and neglect in BC.  All health authorities in British Columbia and Community Living BC are Designated Agencies under the Adult Guardianship Act. The identity of a person who makes a report to a Designated Agency must remain confidential.

In British Columbia, Designated Agencies have the authority and responsibility to receive and act on reports of abuse, neglect or self-neglect of “vulnerable” adults who are unable to seek support and assistance on their own due to restraint, physical handicap, illness, disease, injury, or any other condition that affects the adult’s ability to make decisions.  

There are two designated agencies on Vancouver Island, Island Health (Vancouver Island Health Authority) and Community Living British Columbia.

Reporting to Island Health 

Island Health has “designated responders” who investigate reports of abuse, neglect, and self-neglect of vulnerable adults.   

  • contact the Home and Community Care General Enquiries Line:
    • Victoria - 250-388-2273 or toll free 1-888-533-2273
    • Nanaimo - 250-739-5749 or toll free 1-877-734-4101
    • North Island - 250-331-8570 or toll free 1-866-928-4988
  • you may also contact any Island Health program that directly provides an adult with health care services with your concerns if you believe the adult is being abused, neglected or self-neglecting

Reporting to Community Living BC

Please read Community Living's PDF guide on Reporting Adult Abuse and Neglect to CLBC and contact your local Community Living BC office.

How to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect

Physical Abuse

People may not show signs of being physically abused.  

Physical abuse is a deliberate act of violence, rough treatment, or use of physical force against an adult. 
Someone who is being physically abused may show signs of it, but they may not be noticed by others if the victim is hiding the abuse.

Signs and symptoms of physical abuse

  • cuts 
  • bruises 
  • burns 
  • grip marks 
  • black eyes 
  • unusual pattern or location of injury

Signs of physical abuse that are not so easy to identify

  • fearfulness 
  • depression 
  • anxiety 
  • withdrawal from regular activities and social contact

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can be as painful and damaging as physical abuse because it diminishes an adult’s sense of identity, dignity and self-worth. 

Emotional abuse is when a person is verbally assaulted, insulted, yelled at, threatened or humiliated by someone close to them or by a caregiver.

The abuser often confines a person or isolates them by preventing them from having visits from family and friends or by denying them the chance to attend doctor or other personal care appointments.

Signs and symptoms of emotional abuse

  • depression 
  • fear 
  • anxiety 
  • behaviour changes when a caregiver enters or leaves the room

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse involves any sexual behaviour directed toward an adult without that adult’s knowledge and consent. Sexual abuse can happen to people of all ages, including the elderly. Sexual abuse is a way that a person tries to have control over someone and has nothing to do with consenting sex between adults. Sexual abuse is another form of physical and emotional control of one person over another person, and it has nothing to do with consensual sex between adults.

Signs and symptoms of sexual abuse

  • Pain, itching or bruises around breasts or genital area 
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing 
  • Sexually transmitted diseases such as venereal disease 
  • Vaginal/anal bleeding 
  • Depression, withdrawal from regular activities, fear, anxiety

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse involves the improper, illegal or unauthorized use of an adult’s resources for the benefit of another.

Signs and symptoms of financial abuse

  • Unpaid bills 
  • No money for food, clothing, or medication 
  • Unexplained withdrawal of money from someone’s bank account 
  • Family member or representative refuses to spend money on the adult’s behalf 
  • Possessions disappear 
  • Family member or another person forces an adult to sign over Power of Attorney against their own will

Neglect and Self-Neglect

Adults are neglected when a caregiver does not provide the essential daily living needs of an adult dependent upon them, for things such as food, clothing, shelter, bathing, medication, health care, and doctor visits. Self-neglect happens when an adult can no longer take care of their own basic daily living needs.

Signs and symptoms of neglect and self-neglect

  • Malnourishment 
  • Dehydration 
  • Confusion 
  • Inappropriate clothing 
  • Under or over medication 
  • Skin sores 
  • Poor hygiene 
  • Absence of required aids, canes and walkers

Adult Guardianship Laws in BC 

British Columbia has laws that ensure every adult's right to self-determination and to provide support and assistance for people vulnerable to abuse or are no longer capable of making their own decisions.
In British Columbia, Adult Guardianship Legislation refers to the provincial laws that give every adult (19 years of age or older) a choice about how decisions can or will be made “by” or “for” them. This includes decisions related to: 

  • health care
  • personal care
  • admission to or continued residence in a care facility
  • legal and financial matters

Additionally, the Adult Guardianship Act ensures that vulnerable adults have the right to support, assistance or adult guardianship protection as a result of adult abuse or neglect. The four Acts that comprise the Adult Guardianship laws are:

  1. Representation Agreement Act 
  2. Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act 
  3. Adult Guardianship Act 
  4. Public Guardian and Trustee Act 

Island Health is a designated agency under the Adult Guardianship Act

The Adult Guardianship Act gives us enhanced powers to intervene in emergencies and to investigate situations in which vulnerable adults are living at risk. The Adult Guardianship Act applies to abuse, neglect or self-neglect in a public place, the adult's home, a care facility or any other place except a correctional facility. 


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