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Doctors in Massachusetts are sometimes able to spot unusual broken bone patterns and identify possible instances of child abuse. A new study suggests the same concept may be applied to help ID signs of domestic violence in adult patients. This information is important because there are sometimes situations where abuse victims visit a doctor for treatment with a credible story to explain an injury that doesn’t immediately raise red flags.

While injuries to the head and face are often strong indicators of domestic violence, researchers found that arms and legs could also present credible evidence of spouse-related abuse. Injuries of this nature are more common in abuse victims than facial or head injuries, but they also frequently affect other patients as well. This is why researchers dove a bit deeper to find out what specific types of fractures are more likely to be seen in domestic abuse sufferers.

For instance, an injury to the long bone in the hand could suggest a defensive move if the break is closer to the wrist. But because there can be legitimate reasons for unusual fracture patterns, doctors typically base their suspicions on how a patient answers questions. In some cases, patients seek medical attention with their abuser, which can make it difficult to get honest answers. The new evidence presented about fracture patterns may ultimately help doctors know when to start asking questions and letting partner abuse victims know resources are available for them.

Each state has different requirements that dictate when a physician has to report suspected physical violence. There is no law that requires a victim to seek a divorce. However, if this is what an abused spouse opts to do, a lawyer may use evidence of abuse during the marriage as grounds for filing for divorce. An attorney might also recommend pursuing separate legal action to address the abuse.