Abusive Head Trauma: Judicial Admissions Highlight Violent and Repetitive Shaking
Objective: Confessions are uncommon in abusive head trauma (AHT) cases, and there is debate over whether shaking alone can cause the injuries characteristic of AHT. The objective of this article is to correlate legal statements by perpetrators with medical documentation to offer insights into the mechanism of injury.
Methods: In this retrospective observational study we examined forensic evidence from 112 cases referred for AHT over a 7-year period. We compared 29 cases in which a perpetrator confessed to violence toward the child with 83 cases in which there was no confession. Inclusion criteria were subdural hematoma (SDH) on computed tomography and perpetrator admission of a causal relationship between the violence inflicted and the child's symptoms. Groups were compared by using Student's t test for age and Fisher's exact test for gender, death, fractures, retinal hemorrhages, ecchymoses, symptoms, and SDH patterns. All medical records from birth to diagnosis, imaging studies, and written investigation reports were reviewed.
Results: All confessions came from forensic investigations. There was no statistically significant difference between the 2 groups for any of the variables studied. Shaking was described as extremely violent (100%) and was repeated (55%) from 2 to 30 times (mean: 10) because it stopped the infant's crying (62.5%). Impact was uncommon (24%). No correlation was found between repeated shaking and SDH densities.
Conclusions: This unique forensic case series confirms the violence of shaking. The high frequency of habitual AHT is a strong argument for reporting suspected cases to judicial authorities and helps to explain the difficulty in dating the injuries.
- Accepted May 21, 2010.
- Copyright © 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics