Aim: To investigate the characteristics of severe abuse of children and possible differences in comparison with less severe abuse.
Method: Cases of abuse reported to the police within a single police district (n = 142) in Sweden were studied. The severe cases were compared to all the remaining cases.
Results: Severe abuse constituted 14% of the total cases and was reported by agencies to a greater degree than minor cases. The suspected perpetrators were socially disadvantaged people in both groups. Half of the most serious cases led to conviction in the courts, compared to 8% in the reference group. The children who had been subjected to abuse were often already known to social services and reports of child abuse had frequently been made.
Conclusion: In comparison between cases of severe and minor child abuse reported to the police, the results did not show any crucial differences except the pattern of reporting and a higher occurrence of prosecution/conviction in the severe cases. This finding places a responsibility on agencies outside of the justice system to consider all cases of reported abuse as serious warning signals and to make independent evaluations to identify risks and the possible need for child protection.