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Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is generally the most visible form of child abuse. It manifests in numerous forms from shaking an infant (aka Shaken Baby Syndrome), to inserting a child's hand in boiling water. Physical abuse can cause permanent injury and death. The statistics cited are from the Child Welfare Gateway.

What is physical abuse?

In 2008, of the various forms of abuse and neglect, 16% of child victims experienced physical abuse. Physical abuse is defined as a non-accidental physical injury to a child or an injury to a child that does not match the explanation. These injuries can range from minor bruises to bone fractures or death. Physical abuse injuries can result from punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning or otherwise harming a child. These injuries are considered abuse even when the caretaker did not intend to harm the child. Physical abuse can occur when a caretaker becomes frustrated and strikes, shakes or throws a child or inflicts unreasonable or severe punishment to a child. Although a child can experience injuries accidentally at play, abuse may be suspected if there is a pattern or frequency of occurrence of injuries.

Physical Indicators of Abuse



On body posterior

Immersion burns: doughnut-shaped on the buttocks

On Lips, eyes, infants face

Fractures of long bones from twising and pulling

Missing or loosened teeth

Intestinal injuries from hitting or kicking

Unusual patterns

Cigarette burns: hands, feet

On gum tissue, caused by forced feeding

Separation of bone and shaft

Absence of hair

Rupture of heart-related blood vessels

In clusters

Rope burns from confinement

On external genitals

Detachment of tissue of bone and shaft

Hemorrhaging beneath scalp from hair pulling

Inflammation of abdominal area

On infants

Dry burns,   caused by iron


Spiral fractures

Subdural/retinal hemorrhages from hitting or shaking

Multiples    in various stages of healing        

Stiff, swollen, enlarged joints

Nasal or jaw fracture




What can be done?

The longer abuse continues, the greater the potential for serious and long term emotional and psychological difficulties for the child. If you suspect a child is being abused, it should be reported to your local Child Protective Services Department (check your local yellow pages under child abuse). If a child is in immediate danger, please call the police. For crisis counseling, call ChildHelp at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.