Child Abuse: An Overview

Injuries to Children: Physical and Sexual Abuse

Physical Abuse Injuries:

In more than half of the cases of child abuse treated in America, children sustain head, face and neck injuries. In a 10-year study of our nation’s emergency rooms, child abuse accounted for more than 10 percent of all blunt trauma to patients younger than 5 years old. It was also found that abused children were mainly injured by battering (53%) and by shaking (10.3%).13 “The injuries most commonly are inflicted with blunt trauma with an instrument, eating utensils, hands, or fingers or by scalding liquids or caustic substances.”24 Common dental injuries include cuts on the tongue, damaged soft and hard palate, fractured teeth, facial bone and jaw fractures, and burns. “Multiple injuries, injuries in different stages of healing, injuries inappropriate for the child’s stage of development, or a discrepant history should arouse suspicion of abuse.”24

In an 10-year study of America’s emergency departments, it was found that children injured by abuse sustain more severe injuries, utilize more medical services, and have worse outcomes than children with accidental injuries.13 “Children injured by child abuse were more likely to have retinal hemorrhages (27.8% vs 0.06%) than children with unintentional injuries… Abused children were more likely than unintentionally injured children to sustain intracranial injury (42.2% vs 14.1%) and thoracic (12.5% vs 4.5%) and abdominal (11.4% vs 6.8%) injuries; to sustain very severe injuries (22.6% vs 6.3%); and to be admitted to the intensive care unit (42.5% vs 26.9%). The mean length of stay for children who were abused was significantly longer (9.3 vs 3.8 days) and the survival to discharge from the hospital was significantly worse (87.3% vs 97.4%) than for those unintentionally injured. Among the survivors, children who were abused developed extensive functional limitations more frequently than those unintentionally injured (8.7% vs 2.7%).”13

Sexual Abuse Injuries:

There are no medical signs in the vast majority of sexual abuse cases.16 Several physical injuries are strong signs of sexual abuse. The oral cavity is a frequent site of sexual abuse in children. The presence of oral and perioral gonorrhea or syphilis in prepubescent children is a strong sign of sexual abuse. When gonorrhea or syphilis is diagnosed in a child, the case must be reported to public health authorities for investigation of the source and other contacts. Bite marks are lesions that may indicate sexual abuse.24 Gags applied to the mouth may leave bruises, scratching, or scarring at the corners of the mouth.24

Child Abuse Introduction   |   Signs of Child Abuse
Child Abuse Statistics   |   It’s Under Reported
Effects of Child Abuse on Children: Abuse General
Effects of Child Abuse on Children: Child Sexual Abuse
Injuries to Children: Physical and Sexual Abuse
Effects of Child Abuse on Adults: Childhood Abuse
Effects of Child Abuse on Adults: Childhood Sexual Abuse
Definition of Physical Abuse   |   Signs of Physical Abuse
Definition of Sexual Abuse   |   Signs of Sexual Abuse
Definition of Child Neglect   |   Signs of Child Neglect
Definition of Emotional Abuse   |   Signs of Emotional Abuse
Abusers   |   Pedophiles
Child Physical Abuse and Corporal Punishment
Treatment for Child Abuse
Costs to Society
State Child Abuse Laws
Nationwide Crisis Line and Hotline Directory

Referring to this article:
“Child Abuse: An Overview” was written by C. J. Newton, MA, Learning Specialist and published in the Find (formerly Mental Health Journal in April, 2001.

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