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Know the signs

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is nonaccidental physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), burning, or otherwise harming a child, inflicted by a parent, caregiver, or other person who has responsibility for the child. Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caregiver intended to hurt the child. Physical discipline, such as spanking or paddling, is not considered abuse as long as it is reasonable and causes no bodily injury to the child.

Along with this definition it is important to note that:

  • Although physical abuse is nonaccidental in this definition, the parent may have injured a child when they did not intend to. Physical abuse may result from over disciplining or disciplining that gets out of control. For example, when a spanking or paddling leaves a mark.
  • In Alaska, although physical discipline is not against the law, when it leaves marks or bruises, it may be a sign of physical abuse.

Signs in Children

Some physical signs in children can be observed as:

  • Unexplained bruises and welts (often found on face, torso, buttocks, back or thighs)
  • Unexplained fractures; dislocations and skeletal injuries often involve facial structure, skull and bones around joints; may include multiple or spiral fractures, or subdural hematoma
  • Unexplained burns often on the palms, soles, buttocks and back

Physical abuse may also result in behavior that seems out of the ordinary.

A child may:

  • Be self-destructive, aggressive, or withdrawn
  • Run away frequently
  • Explain their injuries in strange or inconsistent ways
  • Seem afraid of adults, including parents or guardians
  • Intentionally hurt animals
  • Report that an adult is hurting them

Also with physical abuse, consider signs in the parent as well.

A parent may:

  • Perceive the child as being bad or difficult or consistently talk about the child negatively
  • Use harsh discipline or instruct teachers or caregivers to use harsh punishment for misbehavior
  • Have been disciplined severely or physically abused as a child themselves.
  • Demand an unrealistic level of performance from the child for his/her age and/or ability
  • Use extreme forms of physical punishment
  • Offer no explanation, or a conflicting or unconvincing explanation, for the child's injury
  • Have abused animals or pets
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