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Physical Abuse

Topic Overview

Violence can happen to anyone—males or females, children, teens, adults, older adults, or people with disabilities. You are not to blame. No matter what happened, violence is not okay. Violent people usually have many problems that they find hard to deal with, which can cause them to act out with violence.

Physical abuse includes hitting, pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, strangling, and burning. Physical abuse may come from a stranger, an acquaintance, or a close friend or family member. Many victims of abuse know their attacker.

Violent behavior can also hurt you emotionally. You may feel sad or frightened. Feelings of guilt may prevent you from getting help. But it is important for you to seek help and continue to get help for yourself as long as you need it. Talk to your local child or adult protective agency, the police, or a health professional, such as a doctor, nurse, or counselor. You can also call a local mental health clinic. Any of these people can help you deal with your feelings, get medical treatment if needed, and take steps to stop the abuser.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor or get other help.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have a concern about physical abuse?
Answer the questions for the person you are concerned about, whether that person is you or someone else.
Yes
Concern about physical abuse
No
Concern about physical abuse
How old are you?
Less than 12 years
Less than 12 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female
Are you in physical danger right now?
Yes
Immediate physical danger
No
Immediate physical danger
Yes
Sexual abuse or assault
No
Sexual abuse or assault
Was the assault recent enough that there may still be physical evidence?
For example, your body or clothes could have evidence of the assault that needs to be examined.
Yes
Physical evidence of recent assault
No
Physical evidence of recent assault
Has someone physically hurt or abused you?
Yes
Physical abuse
No
Physical abuse
Did the physical abuse occur in the past 24 hours?
Yes
Physical abuse occurred in the past 24 hours
No
Physical abuse occurred in the past 24 hours
Do you have a serious injury?
Yes
Serious injury
No
Serious injury
Is there someone who can safely take you to get emergency care right now?
Yes
Someone is available to help
No
Someone is available to help
Has someone in your family been hurt on purpose?
Yes
Physical abuse of family member
No
Physical abuse of family member
Are you worried about your physical or emotional safety or about the safety of someone else?
Yes
Concerned about safety of self or others
No
Concerned about safety of self or others
Do you have concerns about any other type of abuse?
Abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional. It also can include neglect.
Yes
Other concerns about abuse or neglect
No
Other concerns about abuse or neglect
Are you concerned about self-harm?
It can include acts like cutting, burning, or choking yourself on purpose, or pushing objects under your skin (like pieces of metal, glass, or wood). People doing these acts usually are not trying to kill themselves, but the results can still be dangerous.
Yes
Concerns about self-harm
No
Concerns about self-harm

If you have just been sexually abused or assaulted, try to preserve any evidence of the attack.

  • Do not change your clothes.
  • Do not bathe, shower, brush your teeth, or clean up in any way.
  • Do not eat or drink anything.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Write down everything you can remember about the assault and about the person who assaulted you.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need help soon.

Call your local YMCA, YWCA, hospital, clinic, or police department, or call an abuse hotline.

You may also call 911 .

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need help right away.

Call your local hospital, clinic, or police department, or call an abuse hotline.

You may also call 911 .

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.

Sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity that is done against your will. It can be:

  • Nonviolent sexual abuse, such as unwanted touching or being forced to watch or look at sexual pictures.
  • Violent sexual assault, such as rape or forced oral sex.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call911or other emergency services now.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

Neglect is a form of abuse. It happens when caregivers do not protect the health and well-being of the person they are supposed to take care of.

Two common types of neglect are:

  • Child neglect. This happens when parents (or other caregivers) fail to provide a child with the food, shelter, schooling, clothing, medical care, or protection the child needs.
  • Elder neglect. This includes failing to provide an older person with food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and other basics. Neglect can include failing to pay nursing home or medical costs for the person if you have a legal responsibility to do so.

Physical abuse may include:

  • Acts of physical violence, like hitting, pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, strangling, and burning.
  • Threats of physical violence against you, your family, or your pets.

Home Treatment

If you feel threatened, you must have a plan for dealing with a threatening situation. If a family member or someone else has threatened to harm you or your child, seek help:

  • If you need immediate help, call 911.
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or see the website at www.ndvh.org. for free, confidential counseling and information about local community resources.
  • Tell someone: the police, a trusted friend, a spiritual adviser, or a health professional. If the incident occurred at work, contact your human resources department for help.
  • Find local resources that can help in a crisis. Your local YMCA, YWCA, police department, mental health clinic, or hospital has information on shelters and safe homes.
  • Be alert to warning signs, such as threats or drunkenness, so that you can avoid a dangerous situation. If you cannot predict when violence may occur, have an exit plan for use in an emergency.
  • If a child tells you that he or she has been abused, stay calm. Tell the child that you believe him or her and that you will do your best to keep him or her safe. Report the abuse to the local police or child protective services agency. For more information, see the topic Child Abuse and Neglect.

If you are no longer living with a violent person, contact the police to obtain a restraining order if your abuser continues to pursue you and act violently toward you.

If you know someone who may be a victim of violent behavior

Here are some things you can do to help a friend or family member.

  • Let your friend know you are willing to listen whenever she or he wants to talk. Don't confront your friend if she or he is not ready to talk. Encourage your friend to talk with her or his health professional, human resources manager, and supervisor to see what resources might be available.
  • Tell your friend that the abuse is not her or his fault and that no one deserves to be abused. Remind your friend that violence is against the law and that help is available. Be understanding if she or he is unable to leave. She or he knows the situation best and when it is safest to leave.
  • If your friend has children, gently point out that you are concerned that the violence is affecting them. Many people do not understand that their children are being harmed until someone else talks about this concern.
  • Encourage and help your friend develop a safety plan. This plan will help keep your friend and her or his children safe during a violent incident, when preparing to leave, and after leaving.

The most important step is to help your friend contact local domestic violence groups. There are programs across the country that provide options for safety, legal support, support, and needed information and services. To find the nearest program:

  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233), or see the website at www.ndvh.org.
  • Call the National Center for Victims of Crime at 1-800-FYI-CALL (1-800-394-2255), or see the website at www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbID=dash_Home.

The most dangerous time for your friend may be when she or he is leaving the abusive relationship, so any advice about leaving must be informed and practical.

Violence is learned behavior, so it is especially important to help your children learn that violence is not a healthy way to resolve conflict. Living in a violent environment increases your child's chances of developing behavior problems, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, poor school achievement, and lowered expectations for the future. People who are maltreated as children are more likely to abuse others. If you were ever abused, it is very important to get treatment so that you learn different ways to resolve conflict and use appropriate discipline.

If you have been a victim of abuse and continue to have problems related to the abuse, you may experience mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For more information, see the topics Depression, Anxiety, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

If violence occurs again, call your doctor to decide if and when you need to see your doctor or get other help.

Prevention

Prevent violence in your home.

  • Learn nonviolent ways to resolve conflicts. Arguing is fine, even healthy, as long as it does not turn violent. For more information on anger control, see the topic Anger, Hostility, and Violent Behavior.

Keep yourself safe from violence.

  • Be alert to warning signs, such as threats or drunkenness, so that you can avoid a dangerous situation. If you can't predict when violence may occur, have an exit plan for use in an emergency.
  • Prevent violence with guns and other weapons. Do not provide your children or teenagers with unsupervised access to guns or other dangerous weapons.
    • Do not keep loaded guns in your home.
    • If you must keep guns in your home, unload them and lock them up. Lock ammunition in a separate place.
    • Do not keep guns in a home where there is someone who has a drug or alcohol problem, is prone to violent behavior, or has threatened suicide.
    • Make sure that no one in your home will have access to guns or other weapons unless they know how to use them safely.
  • If you are no longer living with a violent person, contact the police to obtain a restraining order if your abuser continues to pursue you and act violently toward you.
  • Teach your children that violence is not a solution. Settle arguments without yelling or hitting. Do not use physical discipline, such as spanking, pinching, ear pulling, jabbing, shoving, choking, or strangling. If you need help controlling your children, consider taking a course in parenting skills.
  • Limit your child's exposure to TV, movies, and video games to no more than 1 to 2 hours per day.
  • Watch for signs of violent behavior in your child or teen.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

If you have made an appointment with your health professional, you may be able to get the most from your visit by being prepared to answer the following questions:

A recent event

  • Has someone hit, slapped, kicked, or otherwise physically hurt you on purpose?
  • Has someone forced you to have sexual activities?
  • What kind of injuries do you have?
  • What triggered the abuser's violent behavior?
  • Has the abuser threatened violence against your children? Is he or she violent toward your children?
  • Has the abuser hurt a pet or destroyed things that belong to you?
  • Is the person who harmed you using any alcohol or illegal drugs?
  • Does the person who harmed you have access to guns or other violent weapons?
  • Do you have any risk factors that increase your chance of becoming a victim of violent behavior?

If you need immediate help, call 911.

A history of abusive behavior

  • Have you ever been emotionally or physically abused by your partner or someone important to you?
  • How long have you felt threatened by the violent behavior of someone else?
  • Are you the victim of angry outbursts or violent actions?
  • Do another person's violent outbursts occur at regularly spaced time periods?
  • Has the abuse increased recently?
  • What kind of injuries has the abuse caused? Did you seek health care for the injuries? When and where?
  • Does the abuser control most or all your activities every day?
  • What triggers the abuser's violent behavior?
  • Has the abuser threatened violence against your children? Is he or she violent toward your children?
  • Has the abuser hurt a pet or destroyed things that belong to you?
  • Is the person who harmed you using any alcohol or illegal drugs?
  • Does the person who harmed you have access to guns or other violent weapons?
  • Does your family have a history of violent behavior?
  • Has the abuser ever been diagnosed with depression or a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or personality disorder?
  • Do you have any risk factors that increase your chance of becoming a victim of violent behavior?

Another resource for help is the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE, 1-800-799-7233) or see the website at www.ndvh.org for free, confidential counseling and information about local community resources.

Other Places To Get Help

Organization

National Domestic Violence Hotline
Phone: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233)
TDD: 1-800-787-3224
Email: ndvh@ndvh.org (email is not confidential or secure)
Web Address: www.ndvh.org
 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers crisis intervention, information about domestic violence, and referrals to local service providers for victims of domestic violence (men, women, and teens) and those calling on their behalf. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in English, Spanish, and other languages. The hotline connects callers to more than 4,000 shelters and service providers in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised December 23, 2011

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