Reporting Vulnerable Adult Abuse


Vulnerable Adults are not all “older adults” and “older adults are not all vulnerable.

The law's purpose is to prevent or remedy neglect, self-neglect, abuse, or exploitation of vulnerable adults who are unable to protect their own interests and are at risk of immediate harm to their own person or to others. The following definitions are very important:

  • Exploitation is any action involving the misuse, or wrongfully taking, of a vulnerable adult’s funds, property, or person through theft, scams, fraud, or predatory lending.
  • Neglect is the failure to meet the needs of an older adult who is under care, including not providing essentials such as adequate food, clothing, medical treatment, or habilitative therapy, shelter, or supervision.
  • Physical Abuse is the intentional use of force that causes physical discomfort pain or injury to a vulnerable adult as a result of cruel or inhumane treatment or as a result of a malicious act by any person.
  • Self-Neglect is a vulnerable adult's inability to provide for their physical or mental health, which impairs or threatens their well-being.
  • Sexual Abuse is non-consensual sexual contact of any kind including witnessing sexual activity.
  • Verbal/Emotional Abuse is emotional pain through verbal assaults, threats, intimidation, humiliation, harassment, or isolation.
  • Vulnerable Adult is a person aged 18 or over who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for their daily needs.

1 in 10 people over the age of 60 have been subjected to abuse or neglect in the last year.

It is a crime for a household member, family member, or anyone responsible for the supervision of a vulnerable adult to neglect or abuse the vulnerable adult or intentionally and maliciously inflict severe emotional distress on the vulnerable adult.

Any abuse or neglect that results in sexual abuse, serious harm, or death is a felony of abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult in the first degree and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines.

Any abuse, neglect, or infliction of severe emotional distress not rising to first degree abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult may still be prosecuted as misdemeanor of abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult in the second degree. On conviction, this misdemeanor is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or up to $5,000 in fines. (Maryland Criminal Law §§ 3-604, 3-605)


Maryland law requires health practitioners, police officers, educators, and human service workers to report suspected abuse of vulnerable adults. (Maryland Family Law 14-302).

  • Professionals are not responsible for investigating or collecting evidence of abuse or neglect, but they are required to report suspected abuse and neglect.
  • The report must be made to Adult Protective Services or Law Enforcement.
  • The verbal report must be followed up with a written report to Adult Protective Services.
  • When possible, involve the older adult in the reporting process.
  • Reports of abuse of anyone over 18 who may be considered vulnerable must be reporter to Adult Protective Services.


  • It does not matter how old a person is, it matters if the person is vulnerable.
  • Remember your responsibility is to report, not investigate.
  • If you have the opportunity and it is safe, talk to the adult to develop a safety plan for the possibility or inevitability that the perpetrator of the abuse will learn a report has been made.
  • Know that financial exploitation of an older adult is abusive, not just illegal. When there is financial exploitation, there is frequently other forms of abuse.
  • Most abuse of vulnerable adults is caused by a trusted person and most murder victims over 60 are killed by their spouses and children. Reporting can save lives.

When you suspect abuse of an adult and you believe that adult is vulnerable, report to:

1-800-91-PREVENT (1-800-917-7383)