At times, a suspect may claim the child rolled off the bed. Here, consideration should be given as to whether the child is old enough to roll or crawl. Even if the child is mobile, falling off a bed is rarely accepted by a forensic physician as having the required amount of force to cause a skull fracture.
Consider where the injuries are on the child's body as well. If the child has bruises, cuts or fractures on more than one side of the body, the mechanism of injury had to be applied more than once, such as multiple blows.
Frequently a child will have several injuries that occurred at different times. The occasions could be an escalation of violence leading to one major injury or a pattern of abuse.
Burn injuries should also be examined. Burns that produce patterns can provide information to investigators. Several distinct round burns on a child's arm are most likely from a cigarette and not from the child playing with a lighter. One burn may be an accident, but several indicate intentional abuse. An inquiry of who smokes around the child and what that person has to say should be an investigator's focus.
Scalding is also a form of child abuse; however, accidental scalding does occur. But consider this: If a child places one foot in a tub of scalding water, natural instinct indicates he or she will not voluntarily place the other foot in the water. If a child jumps in the hot tub with both feet, he is not going to sit down after feeling extreme pain on his feet. Instinct is going to cause the child to move away, according to Zimbardo and Gerrig. Therefore, when a caregiver says the child must have jumped in and sat down or stayed in the tub too long, an alarm should go off. A medical professional's opinion should be sought, but the experienced investigator should know this is a red flag.
The patterns of the scalding or burns are also important to observe, document and photograph. Bath water between 109 and 113 degrees is painful to the touch for an adult. Water at 130 degrees has the ability to produce a full thickness burn to the skin of an adult in 30 seconds. Children's skin would be even more sensitive, adds Christian. Water temperatures and where the hot water heater thermostat is set should be documented, and photographs taken in cases of scalding.
There will normally be at least two scenes to collect evidence: Information gathered and collected at the medical facility and at the crime scene. Investigators must examine the location where the child was injured. Measurements from the top of the bed to the floor should be taken if the caregiver said the child fell out of bed. Photographs showing objects on the floor should be taken to support how the injury occurred. If a weapon was used to cause a blunt force injury, it may still be present at the scene. In one actual abuse case, a father used a ladle to strike his infant child in the head as she sat in her high chair eating. The ladle was found in the kitchen sink and retrieved as evidence.
Confronting the perpetrator
A considerable amount of time should be given to talk personally with medical personnel to obtain available information before confronting a suspect. Caregivers and any witnesses should be interviewed without a hint of blame during the investigation's fact-gathering phase. At this point, the investigator wants the cooperation of all involved. Statements should be taken and recorded, so that if one of the witnesses becomes a suspect his statement is documented.
When a suspect has been identified, a sympathetic investigative approach can help obtain a confession. The investigator should have identified what most likely caused the injury and the stressor. He or she should confront the suspect, emphasizing that doctors report the child's injuries were from a deliberate act and not an accident. The investigator should relay an understanding that the suspect's circumstances led him to simply lose control.
By showing empathy, investigators can get suspects to eventually begin providing details about what happened. Reiterating what medical personnel reported often has a tremendous impact. It is harder for suspects to argue with a doctor's assessment.