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Diagnostic criteria for cutaneous injuries in child abuse: classification, findings, and interpretation

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Physical abuse of children has many manifestations. Depending on the type of force involved, specific injury patterns are produced on the body of the child, the morphology and localization of which are forensically relevant in terms of diagnostic classification as child abuse. Typical patterned bruising includes, for example, tramline bruises resulting from blows with oblong, stick-like objects. In addition to rounded or one-sided horseshoe-shaped bite injuries, injuries of different ages, clustered injuries (e.g., three or more individual injuries in the same body region), and thermal injuries are typical results of abuse. Abusive scalds are usually characterized by a symmetrical impression and localization with sharp delineation of the scald wound edges, in contrast to accidental scalding injuries with radiating splash patterns ending in tapered points. The coloration of a hematoma can help indicate the time when the injury occurred. Lack of a coherent and comprehensible explanation for accidental injury constitutes grounds for suspecting abuse. Suspicions should be raised in cases of a delayed visit to a doctor, waiting for an unusually long period before summoning emergency medical help for serious injuries to a child, and when differing versions of a purported accident are provided. Documentation of the findings is highly relevant in later reviews of the diagnosis, for instance, when new relevant facts and investigative results come to light in subsequent criminal proceedings.

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Correspondence to Michael Tsokos.

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Tsokos, M. Diagnostic criteria for cutaneous injuries in child abuse: classification, findings, and interpretation. Forensic Sci Med Pathol 11, 235–242 (2015).

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