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Physical Abuse

What is it?

Physical abuse or assault is the intentional use of force or aggression against someone. It may result in injury or even death in extreme cases. 1

What does it look like?

Physical abuse, including assault, is the intentional use of force against a person without that person's consent. It can cause physical pain or injury that may last a long time. Physical abuse includes:

  • pushing or shoving
  • hitting, slapping or kicking
  • pinching or punching
  • strangling or choking
  • stabbing or cutting
  • shooting
  • throwing objects at someone
  • burning
  • holding someone down for someone else to assault
  • locking someone in a room or tying them down
  • killing someone

What is the impact?

Physical Effects of Physical Abuse

The short-term effects of physical abuse are typically obvious and treatable by an emergency room physician or other healthcare provider. They can range from cuts, bruises, broken bones and other physical maladies. There are long-term physical abuse effects from these injuries as well, however.

Unfortunately, many of the injuries sustained from physical abuse affect the victim as they grow older. The long-term effects of physical abuse include: 2

  • Arthritis
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (in the cases where sexual abuse was part of the physical abuse)
  • Chronic pain syndromes

See more information on Signs of Physical Abuse.

Other physical illnesses, such as diabetes, may be worsened due to physical abuse as the victim may have been denied access to care. Murder and suicide are also frequently associated with physical abuse.

Pregnancies are also frequently impacted by physical abuse. The effects of physical abuse on a pregnancy include:

  • Poor weight gain
  • Preterm labor
  • Miscarriage
  • Low infant birth weight

Psychological Effects of Physical Abuse

Unfortunately, some of the longest-lasting and most debilitating effects of physical abuse are psychological in nature. Depression is the primary psychological response to physical abuse but drug and alcohol abuse is also common. Abused women have a 16-times greater risk of abusing alcohol and a 9-times greater risk of abusing drugs when compared to non-abused women. Other psychological effects of physical abuse include:2

  • Suicidal behavior
  • Self-mutilation
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

It is still abuse if...

  • The incidents of physical abuse seem minor when compared to those you have read about, seen on television, or heard other women talk about. There isn’t a “better” or “worse” form of physical abuse; you can be severely injured as a result of being pushed, for example.
  • The incidents of physical abuse have only occurred one or two times in the relationship. Studies indicate that if your spouse/partner has injured you once, it is likely he will continue to physically assault you.
  • The physical assaults stopped when you became passive and gave up your right to express yourself as you desire, to move about freely and see others, and to make decisions. It is not a victory if you have to give up your rights as a person and a partner in exchange for not being assaulted!
  • There has not been any physical violence. Many women are emotionally and verbally assaulted. This can be as equally frightening and is often more confusing to try to understand.

Source: Breaking the Silence Handbook


If you or someone you know is experiencing physical abuse please visit the Get Help section for resources.