Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any intentional act causing injury or trauma to another person by way of bodily contact. In most cases, children are the victims of physical abuse, but adults can also be victims. Physical abuse may involve more than one abuser, and more than one victim.

Physical abuse means any non-accidental act or behavior causing injury, trauma, or other physical suffering or bodily harm. Abusive acts toward children can often result from parents' attempts at child discipline through excessive corporal punishment.

Causes:

A number of causes of physical abuse against children have been identified, the most common of which, according to Mash and Wolfe, being:

  • many abusive and neglectful parents have had little exposure to positive parental models and supports.
  • there is often a greater degree of stress in the family environment.
  • information-processing disturbances may cause maltreating parents to mis-perceive or mislabel their child's behavior, which leads to inappropriate responses.
  • there is often a lack of awareness or understanding of developmentally appropriate expectations.

Effects: 

Physically abused children are at risk for later interpersonal problems involving aggressive behavior, and adolescents are at a much greater risk for substance abuse. In addition, symptoms of depression, emotional distress, and suicidal ideation are also common features of people who have been physically abused. Studies have also shown that children with a history of physical abuse may meet  criteria for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As many as one-third of children who experience physical abuse are also at risk to become abusive as adults.

Researchers have pointed to other potential psycho-biological effects of child physical abuse on parenting, when abused children become adults. These recent findings may, at least in part, be carried forward by epigenetic changes that impact the regulation of stress physiology. Many other potentially important consequences of childhood physical abuse on adolescent and adult physical and mental health and development have been documented via the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) studies

Abuse Signs & Symptoms

  • Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, fractures or burns
  • Injuries that don't match the given explanation
  • Untreated medical or dental problems

Neglect Signs & Symptoms

  • Poor growth or weight gain
  • Poor hygiene
  • Lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs
  • Taking food or money without permission
  • Eating a lot in one sitting or hiding food for later
  • Poor record of school attendance
  • Lack of appropriate attention for medical, dental or psychological problems or lack of necessary follow-up care
  • Emotional swings that are inappropriate or out of context to the situation
  • Indifference

Treatment:

Seeking treatment is unlikely for a majority of people that are physically abused, and the ones who are seeking treatment are usually under some form of legal constraint. The prevention and treatment options for physically abused children include: enhancing positive experiences early in the development of the parent-child relationship, as well as changing how parents teach, discipline, and attend to their children.

Evidence-based interventions include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as well as video-feedback interventions and child-parent psychodynamic psychotherapy, all of which specifically target anger patterns and distorted beliefs, and offer training and/or reflection, support, and modelling that focuses on parenting skills and expectations, as well as increasing empathy for the child by supporting the parent's taking the child's perspective.

Click here to learn what you can do to stop physical abuse.

SOURCES:

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES