Physical abuse is an intentional act of violence or force that causes bodily harm typically in the form of physical discomfort, impairment, injury or pain. However a person does not have to show signs of an injury or bruises to have experienced physical abuse. Evidence of any one indicator from the following list should not be taken on its own as proof that abuse is occurring. However, it should alert people to consider other factors associated with the adult at risk’s situation.
- Injuries are inconsistent with the account of how they happened
- No explanation of how injuries happened
- Injuries are inconsistent with the lifestyle of the adult at risk
- Multiple bruising and/or welts on the face, lips, mouth, torso, arms, back, buttocks and thighs
- Marks on the body including slap marks and finger marks
- A history of unexplained falls/minor injuries
- Injuries at different stages of healing
- Burns (especially if they are inconsistent with the lifestyle of the adult at risk)
- Immersion burns or rope burns on arms, legs or torso
- Induced injuries or physical symptoms that are falsely claimed or exaggerated on behalf of the adult at risk by a paid or unpaid carer to attract treatment
- Misuse of medication (e.g. excessive repeat prescriptions)
- Unexplained loss of hair in clumps
- Cuts that are not likely to be a result of self-injury
- Subdued behaviour in the presence of a carer
- Being left in wet clothing or bedding
- Malnutrition when the adult at risk is not living alone
- Seeking medical treatment too late or not at all.
Living with Physical Abuse
Many people who have experienced physical abuse say that it starts off small such as a one-off slap, the grabbing of a wrist or the occasional push but that it becomes progressively more violent and frequent.
In many cases, following a violent outburst the abuser will be apologetic, begging for forgiveness and promising never to be violent again. They may also resort to blaming the victim for their behaviour claiming their violence was only a natural and inevitable progression of something started by the victim.
Another common claim physically abusive people may make for their actions is that violence is necessary to control the victim and ensure they do as they are told. They may also use the excuse that their behaviour was unintentional and that they simply ‘lost it’. Alcohol and drugs are often involved in cases of physical abuse and abusive individuals may tell the victim that it was the alcohol/drugs making them act violently, not themselves.
Living with physical abuse can be extremely distressing, and victims will usually be in constant fear that the acts of violence, or worse, will happen again. Whatever the degree of physical abuse, there is always a risk of causing a permanent disability, injury or even death.
Escaping Physical Abuse
Adults being physically abused should strongly consider seeking help, either by formally reporting the abuse, making an appointment with a GP, or contacting a dedicated helpline for support. However this can feel like too big a step, so talking to someone the adult trusts can help. Speaking for the first time about physical abuse can also be difficult, so it might help to write down feelings first or send a letter
instead. Finding the courage to open up and talk about suffering is the first step to breaking away from the abuse and moving on. For victims of physical abuse, escaping a violent relationship or situation is only the first hurdle. Many may need to attend abuse counselling sessions in order to recover their self-esteem and confidence, and ultimately regain control of their emotional well-being.
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