Sexual Incidents in Adult Social Care

Featured article - 23 March 2022
By Rebekah Luff, SCIE Senior Research Analyst

A new briefing examines the scale and nature of sexual abuse in adult social care settings. The Social Care Institute for Excellence was asked by the Department of Health and Social Care to undertake a detailed evidence review.

The briefing is a summary of a full evidence review and is relevant to anyone working in adult social care or safeguarding. This could be a number of bodies from groups that work with victims of sexual incidents to local authorities; and from the Care Quality Commission to police and health services.

The review is to consider seven key questions :

  • What is the incidence/prevalence of sexual abuse in adult social care settings in the UK?
  • How is sexual abuse defined in the studies and in the sector?
  • Which groups of people are most at risk of being affected by sexual abuse in adult social care settings?
  • What knowledge do we have about the perpetrators of sexual incidents?
  • What knowledge do we have about the contributing factors which allow abuse to happen in social care settings?
  • What do we know about how adult social care settings try to prevent or respond to sexual abuse?
  • What are the gaps in existing evidence?


Recommendations are made under three themes. The first theme looks at the data and evidence gaps and how these could be addressed:

  • Supporting current, ongoing Care Quality Commission (CQC) work in this area
  • Supporting the ongoing work by NHS Digital to implement changes to the annual Safeguarding Adults Collection
  • Undertaking further work to analyse additional data held by CQC and by local authorities
  • Consider options for a collecting and analysing data on incidents where staff are the victims.

The second theme focusses on the training and development for staff and people drawing on services to better prevent and report sexual incidents.

In 2020 the Care Quality Commission reported that personal relationship training for staff is needed and our review supports this. It’s also important to encourage the development of guidelines and training to support staff to identify sexual incidents, respond to incidents and manage the reporting of such incidents. As well as considering staff, programmes are needed to support people with learning disabilities to understand their sexual rights.

Finally, there are a number of recommendations on reviewing risk assessment and safeguarding processes so that all people drawing on care and support are included. For instance, clearer safeguarding processes should be introduced for both victims and perpetrators of abuse; and allegations of past abuse must not be lost in database changes.

Notes to editors

This briefing and the recommendations are relevant to anyone working in adult social care or safeguarding including DHSC, CQC, NHS Digital, local authorities, Safeguarding Adults Boards, commissioners, providers, and groups that work with victims of sexual incidents including the police, health services and victim support.

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