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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.

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
Unusual patterns
In clusters
On infants
Multiples in various stages of healing


Immersion burns: doughnut-shaped on the buttocks
Cigarette burns: hands, feet
Rope burns from confinement
Dry burns, caused by iron


On Lips, eyes, infants face
On gum tissue, caused by forced feeding
On external genitals


Fractures of long bones from twising and pulling
Separation of bone and shaft
Detachment of tissue of bone and shaft
Spiral fractures
Stiff, swollen, enlarged joints


Missing or loosened teeth
Absence of hair
Hemorrhaging beneath scalp from hair pulling
Subdural/retinal hemorrhages from hitting or shaking

Nasal or jaw fracture


Intestinal injuries from hitting or kicking
Rupture of heart-related blood vessels
Inflammation of abdominal area

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.

The Parenting PATH
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500 W. Northwest Blvd.
Winston-Salem, NC 27105