Bruise interpretation: Tips for abuse investigations
In abuse cases, there is no limit to the injuries a police officer or investigator might encounter, and one of the most common injuries seen is bruising
Police officers and detectives frequently investigate abuse cases. In child abuse, elder abuse, and/or domestic abuse cases it’s not uncommon to deal with victims who are scared, unwilling, or unable to tell investigators what happened.
Victims may be reluctant or unable to share information with investigators for a variety of reasons. Some may be fearful of retaliation or further abuse as in a domestic violence case. Others may be unable to tell you what happened due to a loss of consciousness or in the case of an elderly victim, dementia. Others may be protecting their abuser from arrest and prosecution.
A valuable resource to have in the investigator’s tool box is a basic understanding of injuries and how they occur. The human body has the potential to offer investigators a great deal of information; knowing a little bit about wounds and wound patterns can help investigators draw some preliminary conclusions about a case, corroborate or dispel a victim or suspect’s story, and even suggest the possible weapon or object used to inflict an injury.
3 Variables to Consider
Bruising involves the escape or hemorrhage of blood from ruptured blood vessels into the surrounding tissue. The resulting discoloration can usually be seen beneath the surface of the skin but, bruising is an injury that has many variables for investigators to consider.
• Large surface areas such as the back or buttocks may reveal more clues than those on a bony narrow structure such as a shin
• Force will vary at the time an injury is inflicted
• The age of a victim: The very young and the very old tend to bruise more easily
A.) Colors of a bruise change from the outer perimeter inward
• Most bruises will disappear within approximately 1-4 weeks
Differences Between Accidental and Abuse Bruises
Conversely, in abuse cases, police officers will typically see bruising to the face, mouth, lips, neck, back, ribs, buttocks, thighs, and genitals. Naturally, other areas of bruising may be observed, but those listed are commonly found in intentional injury cases.
Abusive bruising may be the result of a victim being punched, kicked, choked, squeezed or held down. Or, they may have been struck with a firm or flexible object ranging from a stick or bat to a belt or electrical cord (or any other striking implement you can think of).
By carefully scrutinizing a victim’s bruises, investigators may take away some valuable information.
Things to Look For
1.) Finger Pad Bruises
A.) Round or oval in shape
2.) Shoe Impressions
A.) A bruise may form reflecting the imprint of the sole of a shoe if it is distinct, as in a lugged pattern on a boot
3.) Wrap-around Bruises
A.) Bruises from accidental injury tend not to form in a wrapped appearance
4.) Linear Bruising
A.) Bruising has many variables but they tend not to follow a linear pattern naturally
5.) Defensive Bruising
A.) Typically seen on extremities
The Importance of Documentation
Often, in abuse cases, police officers find themselves advocating for those who are unable to advocate for themselves. Interpreting a victim’s injuries is another investigative tool that can be used to determine what may have happened, confirm or dispel a victim or a suspect’s story and ultimately allow us to help the vulnerable, those who need us the most.
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