When looking for signs of physical abuse, it’s common to look for visible bruises, scratches, and any other clear signs of trauma. But what about the bruises that the naked eye can’t detect? It isn’t unheard of for abuse to go unrecorded because it’s unseen.
There is one sign, however, that should set off an alarm that someone may have been a victim of physical abuse.
But first, what constitutes physical abuse?
Physical abuse is defined as non-accidental force that causes bodily harm and injury, and results in unreasonable punishment. Women are more often victims of physical abuse, as well as the elderly, physically disabled, and mentally ill. Physical abuse often manifests itself in intimate relationships. For children, abuse most commonly occurs at the hands of a family member.
Number of reported cases of abuse
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of physical abuse by an intimate partner at least once in their life. More than 20,000 phone calls to hotlines about domestic violence are recorded in a day, the site reports. One in 15 children are reportedly exposed to physical violence. These children are often eye witnesses to domestic assault in their homes.
Abuse on TV
There are many arguments that the portrayal of abuse on TV makes it more difficult to detect in real life. Some argue that the abundance of violence on TV, in video games, and on social media has made us numb to it. There is also evidence that predisposing someone to violent imagery puts them at a higher risk of becoming violent themselves.
The one sign that someone is a victim
When it comes to physical abuse, a simple touch can become a very scary thing. And one shocking sign that someone has suffered from physical abuse is that they don’t like being hugged. While most people see a hug as comforting, a victim of physical abuse is more likely to withdraw in fear.
How the trauma develops over time
Clinical psychologist Aaron Kipnis, Ph.D. explains to DomesticShelters.org why a hug is so terrifying for victims and survivors of abuse. “Abuse leaves an imprint that touch is dangerous,” he says. “For abuse survivors they may flinch, withdraw or retract when hugged, even though they’re longing for physical contact.” The reaction is worse when the hug is unexpected, or from behind. “They don’t like anyone sneaking up on them,” Kipnis says.
Why this sign is hard to spot at first
Even if you know this shocking sign, physical abuse can still be hard to spot. (An individual without a history of physical abuse may not like to be touched, for example.) But if an individual exudes severe reaction to being hugged, it can raise a red flag that something is wrong. Recognizing changes in behavior — especially if these behaviors are accompanied by visible signs of physical trauma — is key to determining physical abuse, and then seeking help.
There is a plethora of outlets for getting help with physical abuse, starting with the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. For survivors of child abuse, Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse connects victims with survivors. The National Center for Elder Abuse offers help for seniors, and includes a resources page to help victims find local help.