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Physical Abuse

Overview

Violence can happen to anyone—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. This can cause them to act out with violence.

Physical abuse can include things like hitting, pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, strangling, and burning. It may come from a stranger. Or it may come from an acquaintance, a partner, a close friend, or a family member. Many people who are abused 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's important for you to seek help and keep getting 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.

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

The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.

  • If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
  • If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
  • If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
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

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, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.

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.

Self-Care

If you feel threatened, you must have a plan for keeping yourself safe. If a family member or someone else has threatened to harm you or your child, seek help.

  • If you need help right away, call 911.
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or see the website at www.thehotline.org for free, confidential counseling and information about local community resources.
  • Tell someone: the police, a trusted friend, a spiritual advisor, 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 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 can't predict when violence may occur, have an exit plan for use in an emergency.
  • If a child tells you that they have been abused, stay calm. Tell the child that you believe them and that you will do your best to keep them safe. Report the abuse to the local police or child protective services agency.

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

Ways to support others

Here are some things you can do to help a friend or family member who may be a victim of violent behavior.

  • Help your friend contact local domestic violence groups. This is the most important step. There are programs across the country that provide options for safety, legal 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 go to thehotline.org to visit the website.
    • Call the National Center for Victims of Crime at 1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846). Or go to www.victimsofcrime.org to visit the website.
  • Let your friend know that you're willing to listen whenever they want to talk. Don't confront your friend if they aren't ready to talk. Encourage your friend to talk with their health professional, human resources manager, and supervisor to see what resources might be available.
  • Tell your friend that the abuse isn't their 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 your friend is unable to leave. They know 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 the kids. Many people don't understand that their children are being harmed until someone else talks about this concern.
  • Encourage and help your friend make a safety plan. This plan will help keep your friend and their children safe during a violent incident, when they prepare to leave, and after they leave.

The most dangerous time may be when your friend is leaving the abusive relationship. Make sure that any advice you give about leaving is informed and practical.

When to call for help during self-care

Call a doctor if problems from violence or abuse occur more often or are more severe.

Learn more

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Credits

Current as of: February 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor MD - Emergency Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

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This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.