Physical abuse

Typically, there are signs of physical abuse both within and outside the relationship in which it occurs. However, spotting the signs of physical abuse may not always be easy and sometimes people choose to overlook them as they don’t wish to believe that physical abuse is taking place. There are physical, behavioural and emotional signs of physical abuse. Behaviours are seen both in the abuser and in the victim.

Obvious signs of physical abuse include:

  • Black eyes
  • Bruises
  • Burns
  • Cuts
  • Restraint or grip markings
  • Unusual pattern of injury; repeated trips to Accident and Emergency.

While these signs of physical abuse may seem obvious, most victims may try to cover them up to hide the abuse due to fear of further abuse or shame about the abuse. While physical violence is never okay, and physical abuse is never the fault of the victim, many victims feel the abuse is their fault.

While the above signs of physical abuse are visible, other signs of physical abuse may be more subtle. These may include:

  • Abuse of alcohol or other drugs
  • Anxiety, including panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Fearfulness
  • Pelvic pain; vaginal or urinary tract infections
  • Sexual problems
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Unwanted pregnancy; lack of prenatal care
  • Vague medical complaints such as chronic headaches, fatigue or stomach pain.

Types of physical abuse

  • Assault, hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, hair-pulling, biting, pushing
  • Rough handling
  • Scalding and burning
  • Physical punishments
  • Inappropriate or unlawful use of restraint
  • Making someone purposefully uncomfortable (e.g. opening a window and removing blankets)
  • Involuntary isolation or confinement
  • Misuse of medication (e.g. over-sedation)
  • Forcible feeding or withholding food
  • Unauthorised restraint, restricting movement (e.g. tying someone to a chair)

Possible indicators of physical abuse

  • No explanation for injuries or inconsistency with the account of what happened
  • Injuries are inconsistent with the person’s lifestyle
  • Bruising, cuts, welts, burns and/or marks on the body or loss of hair in clumps
  • Frequent injuries
  • Unexplained falls
  • Subdued or changed behaviour in the presence of a particular person
  • Signs of malnutrition
  • Failure to seek medical treatment or frequent changes of GP