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An Online Resource Library Supporting Professionals Ending Gender-Based Violence.

Traumatic Brain Injury and Domestic Violence: Understanding the Intersections

June 01, 2014

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as a specific type of damage to the brain that is caused by external physical force and is not present at birth or degenerative. A blow (or blows) to the head, shaking of the brain, loss of oxygen (anoxia), colliding with a stationary object and exposure to blasts can cause a TBI. Based on this definition, the use of physical force by an intimate partner during incidents of domestic violence can cause traumatic brain injury as abusive partners often cause injury to a victim’s head, neck (including strangulation), and face. In one study, 30% of domestic violence survivors reported a loss of consciousness at least once and 67% reported residual problems that were potentially head-injury related (Corrigan, Wolfe, Mysiw, Jackson & Bogner, 2003).

However, TBI often goes undiagnosed amongst domestic violence survivors. One reason for this is that domestic violence survivors, who also have a TBI, may exhibit symptoms that could resemble those of a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, tension and/or inability to adapt to changing situations. Additionally, DV/TBI survivors may appear to have behavioral issues, including problems with keeping appointments, following through, or completing tasks that require multiple steps.

Anecdotal information from survivors and advocates indicates that victims with TBI are often questioned in regards to their ability to parent. At a training for domestic violence advocates, a TBI survivor as a result of domestic violence shared how she would forget to pick up her daughter from school, which prompted a call to the Child Protective Services agency in her area. Others have talked about the difficulties they experienced while living in congregate settings where following rules was, at times, problematic. These kinds of behaviors are often not intentional and survivors may even appear to be uncooperative and oppositional. However, it is important to keep in mind that many of these perceived behaviors might be directly related to the TBI. Therefore, it is crucial for domestic violence service providers and health care professionals to understand the prevalence and effects of TBI within the context of domestic violence.

This Special Collection offers information about the intersection between domestic violence and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). It provides advocates and other professionals with tools to screen for TBI within the context of domestic violence as well as presentations, articles, and other relevant resources on the topic.

The purpose of this collection is to: 1) increase knowledge and understanding of TBI within the context of domestic violence, 2) provide tools to advocates and other professionals to screen domestic violence survivors for TBI, and 3) highlight best practices.

The NRCDV provides a wide range of free, comprehensive, and individualized technical assistance, training, and specialized resource materials and projects designed to enhance current intervention and prevention strategies. To suggest additional resources we should include in this collection or for ongoing technical assistance and other resources, please contact the NRCDV Technical Assistance Team.