Harassment and slurs or epistemic injustice? Interrogating discriminatory abuse through safeguarding adult review analysis

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The purpose of this paper is to interrogate and develop the conceptualisation of discriminatory abuse in safeguarding adults policy and practice beyond the current interpersonal definition. The paper draws on Safeguarding Adults Reviews (SARs) that refer to discriminatory abuse or safeguarding practice with adults who have care and support needs and protected characteristics.

A search of the national network repository of SARs identified 27 published reviews for inclusion. The contents were thematically analysed to understand how discrimination was experienced in these cases. Fricker’s “Epistemic Injustice” theory was adopted as a conceptual framework, informing the analysis of findings.

Evidence from SARs provides a challenge to the interpersonal emphasis on language and behaviour in national policy. Although the reviews acknowledge that interpersonal abuse occurs, a close reading spotlights practitioner and institutional bias, and inattention to social, structural and contextual factors. The silence on these matters in policy provides a narrow frame for interpreting such abuse. This suggests significant potential for epistemic injustice and signals a need to acknowledge these social, structural and contextual factors in safeguarding practice.

Discriminatory abuse is an under-researched and under-utilised category of abuse in safeguarding adults practice. The paper adopts Fricker’s theory of “Epistemic Injustice” to highlight the silencing potential of current policy approaches to discriminatory abuse to suggest a more inclusive and structural framing for safeguarding practice with those targeted due to their protected characteristics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages12
JournalThe Journal of Adult Protection
Early online date8 May 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 May 2023


  • Discriminatory Abuse
  • Hate Crime
  • Safeguarding Adults
  • Epistemic Injustice

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