Differences in Allegations of Physical Abuse vs Sexual Abuse

Physical and sexual abuse are common in the US, and this has made the legislature to enact stringent laws against such crimes. There is no state in the country that doesn't have a serious legal campaign against abuse of any kind, especially when it is child sexual abuse. One of the worst charges that can be leveled against an American is a child sexual abuse charge. It is capable of ruining a person's life.

When someone has a vendetta against another person, there is a great chance that he may falsify child sexual abuse allegations against that person because of how serious the crime is taken in the United States.

When it comes to disclosing physical and sexual abuse, most children tend to confide in their teachers and caregivers. These teachers and caregivers are seen as mandated reporters by the law. Some abuse victims may not get any help because there was no disclosure to anyone in authority.

Differences Between Disclosures in Physical and Sexual Abuse

When it comes to disclosures of physical and sexual abuse, there are some differences that one may notice.

The Level of Reluctance in Both Varies

It has been noticed that there are disparities when it comes to children disclosing when they are physically abused or sexually abused. Some studies have shown that minors tend to be more open about sexual abuse than physical abuse. One of the studies that show this is the study carried out by Hershkowitz and Elul in 1999. (See I. Hershkowitz et al. Exploring the disclosure of child sexual abuse with alleged victims and their parents. Child Abuse & Neglect 31 (2007) 111-123.) This team of experts wanted to know the level of abuse disclosure in children. The case study was made of children that had been physically abused. It was noticed that children that were physically abused didn't do well in answering open-ended questions. They fared better in directive questions.

The opposite was the case in those children that had been sexually abused. They answered open-ended questions better than directive questions.

There are Different Disclosure Suspicion Bias Between Both

Another difference between the disclosure rates in physical abuse and sexual abuse is because of their different disclosure suspicion bias. Usually, when a mandated reporter suspects physical and sexual abuse, he or she tends to possess disclosure suspicion bias. It is easier to notice when a child has been physically abused than when a child has been sexually abused. If a child has been physically abused, the telltale signs are normally present. It could be scars, bruises, broken bones, and so on. This means that lesser investigation has to be carried out to prove that physical abuse had occurred.

In the case of a child sexual abuse, extra investigation has to be carried out. What this means is that mandated reporters and even permissive reporters tend to have more disclosure suspicion bias when this form of abuse is concerned.

Evidence May Precede Disclosure From the Child in a Physical Abuse Case Than Its Counterpart

In physical abuse, it is common to see the evidence of the abuse precede the disclosure of the abuse by the child. The evidence of the bruising, scars, and broken bones are usually what prompt investigation by the authorities and not disclosure on the part of the child.

Bruises are hard to hide. A child frequently going to a hospital for treatment of broken bones is hard to hide. It is glaring for everyone to see.

When a child discloses that he has been physically abused, there is often no or little evidence to prove this.

In the case of sexual abuse, the evidence may be subtle. This means that disclosure from the child, in most cases, prompts the investigation by authorities.

This also impacts the timing of disclosure, where a child may disclose physical abuse more readily, and earlier on, than he or she might disclose sexual abuse. (This is of course not always true. There are many variables involved, including who the perpetrator or alleged perpetrator of the abuse is and how the person is related to the child.)

It is not easy for the signs of sexual abuse to be noticed, compared to its counterpart, physical abuse.


The differences between disclosure of physical and sexual abuse have an impact on the way the allegations are investigated, proven, and defended against. In the case of a child sexual abuse case, an extra investigation has to be done to show what happened or what didn’t happen.

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