Background: This study aims at investigating physical child abuse in Sweden during 1986-1996, a period when alarm was being raised about an increased number of police reports on physical child abuse. The study focuses on abuse committed by a parent or carer and aims at analyzing the victim and the perpetrator, family environment, injuries and judicial consequences of physical abuse.
Method: All police reports on physical child abuse (0-14 years old) in a designated police district in Sweden during 1986-1996 were examined, as well as any judicial proceedings that followed.
Results: Our research yielded three major findings. Firstly, a large part of the increased number of police reports had to do with violence outside the family: 145 children (0.5 per 1000 children) were found abused within the families, by a parent or a carer. Secondly, there was a tendency toward males abusing boys and females abusing girls, and the biological father was the most frequent suspected perpetrator. Thirdly, 20% of the police reports led to prosecutions, and the investigations were time consuming. Known risk factors for physical abuse, such as unemployment, violent spouse relations, substance and drug abuse and poor mental health were found in several families, often among the prosecuted perpetrators. When examining incidence of physical abuse, Sweden was comparable to the other Scandinavian countries, where legislation and social context are similar.
Conclusions: The numbers of physically abused children that have been reported to the police in Sweden has increased during the investigated period. Familiar risk factors are present in our study, accompanied by new findings, such as, for instance, a gender preference towards the abuse victim.