What is Physical Abuse?

Information retrieved from American Society for the Positive Care of Children (SPCC). (2017). Child Abuse Statistics in the U.S. Retrieved on December 21, 2017 from https://americanspcc.org/physical-child-abuse/

Physical abuse if any non-accidental act that results in physical injury. Inflicted physical injury most often represents unreasonably severe corporal punishment or unjustifiable punishment, This usually happens when a person is frustrated or angry and strikes, shakes, or throws the child. Intentional, deliberate assault, such as burning, biting, cutting, poking, twisting limbs, or otherwise torturing a child, is also included in this category of child abuse.

Indicators of Physical Abuse

These indicators are used to help distinguish accidental injuries from cases of suspected physical abuse:

  • Location & Types of Injuries- Padded areas as the buttocks, back of legs, genitalia and cheeks are more concerning in that it takes more force to cause bruising. Bruises happen when the blood vessels break under the skin. Thus children who are old enough to walk often fall and have bruises over boney surfaces such as the forehead, knees, shins where blood vessels are breaking between two hard surfaces (the floor for example, and underlying bone). However, simple falls and even disciplinary spanking with an open palm should not be forceful enough to cause bruising to the buttocks. Protected areas such as ears, neck, and upper lip are more concerning because it is difficult to accidentally bump or fall on these areas. Patterned injuries such as loop marks, slap marks, or grab marks are highly suspicious and in some cases indicative of inflicted trauma.


This history includes all facts about the child and the injury, including:

  • Statements by the child that the injury was caused by abuse.
  • Knowledge that a child’s injury is unusual for a specific age group (any fracture in an infant).
  • Unexplained injuries (parent, caretaker, or child is unable to explain reason for injury; there are discrepancies in explanation; blame is placed on a third party; explanations are inconsistent with medical diagnosis).
  • Parent or caretaker delays seeking care for a child or fails to seek appropriate care.

Behavioral Indicators

Children may exhibit new or concerning behaviors for a number of reasons including child abuse as well as other sources of childhood stress such as parental divorce, death in the family, etc. If a child exhibits drastic behavioral changes, is excessively aggressive, violent or destructive, is cruel to animals, or becomes visibly depressed or suicidal, a serious mental health evaluation should be done. In addiction, it may be an indication that the child has been abused. If abuse is suspected, the mandated reporter must inform Child Protective Services or law enforcement about their concerns.

Types of Injuries

Damage to Skin & Surface Tissue:

  • Bruises
  • Abrasions, Lacerations
  • Bite Marks
  • Burns

Damage to Brain

  • Head Injuries
  • Abusive Head Trauma

Damage to Other Internal Organs

  • Internal Injuries

Damage to Skeleton

  • Fractures

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