Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



The ability to identify child abuse through skeletal remains is a skill that has generally received little attention. Since the publication of influential articles dealing with battered-child syndrome and shaken baby syndrome, researchers have put more effort toward finding recognizable patterns of physical child abuse. Several studies have found specific fracture patterns associated with child abuse; the humerus, femur and tibia, skull, ulna and radius, and the ribs have all been identified as the most commonly fractured bone resulting from physical child abuse in previous studies. Furthermore, researchers have found that subdural and retinal hemorrhages are the most commonly seen symptoms of shaken baby syndrome. The present study expands upon the previous studies using a sample of 29 autopsy reports from Shelby County, TN, Jefferson Parish, LA, and Dallas County, TX. Data regarding age at death, sex, type of abuse, presence of soft tissue trauma, presence of shaken baby syndrome symptoms, presence of bone fractures, number and location of bone fractures, and, when available, sex of the perpetrator and relationship of the perpetrator to the victim was collected. Pearson’s chi-square tests using SPSS tested correlations between these variables. The results reveal that the ribs were the most commonly fractured bone. In addition, subdural and retinal hemorrhages occurred in the majority of the shaken baby syndrome victims. Statistical analysis showed that males in this study had a higher chance of suffering fractures because of abuse; specifically, males had a higher chance of having rib fractures. Statistical analyses found no other associations between the victim’s sex and fracture location. An association was noted, however, between the victim’s age and the occurrence of tibia, femur, ulna, and radius fractures; older victims had a higher occurrence of fractures at these locations. Finally, an association was also found between the victim’s age and the type of abuse. Older victims were more likely to have fractures while younger children were more likely to have only symptoms of shaken baby syndrome. The results of this study reveal that several patterns of physical child abuse are recognizable within individual studies. On a universal scale, however, it is more difficult to pinpoint specific patterns that occur as a result of physical child abuse. Further studies need to be conducted in order to better understand these patterns.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Mary Manhein