Through the support of Board Voice member organization The Cridge Centre for the Family, Board Voice is expanding its advocacy efforts on the issue of brain injury caused by domestic violence.

Brain injury from intimate partner violence – IPV-BI – is not a new issue by any means. But awareness of just how common brain injuries are for the victims of intimate partner violence is only now coming to public attention as more research comes available.

Because victims of intimate partner violence are overwhelmingly female, the impact of this type of brain injury is borne primarily by women. Undiagnosed, these hidden brain injuries affect every aspect of a woman’s life, from her health to her ability to parent, to maintain paid employment, and to maintain healthy relationships. As well, multiple barriers at every point in the victim’s life and within the system interfere with reporting, assessment and getting necessary services.

Board Voice worked with a number of allied organizations in April 2022 to prepare a summary of IPV-BI issues, impacts and research at the request of Parliamentary Secretary Grace Lore, whose portfolio includes gender equity and the development of a gender-based violence prevention plan for BC. Find this summary here.

While communities in BC and Canada have various types of supports for people who have experienced a brain injury and other supports for people who have experienced intimate partner violence, there is very little recognition or support for services that address needs at the intersection of these two issues.

In January 2020, The Cridge Centre began providing individualized support to women who are survivors of IPV-BI – the first such support in BC. “The effects of trauma coupled with cognitive impairment and physical limitations require a highly individualized support plan that focuses on the specific challenges faced by each woman,” the organization notes on its website.

Acquired brain injury can cause lifelong complications for people across all aspects of their lives. Raising awareness and developing specific community-based services and new approaches in our health care system and community social services are essential.

Professionals ranging from the police officer dealing with a domestic violence call to the community social service worker puzzling over why a client can’t seem to get her life on track need training and awareness on the high incidence of brain injury among people who have been assaulted by their initimate partners.

This February 2022 article in The Tyee on strangulation as a dangerous factor in intimate partner violence only briefly mentions the high risk of brain injury with that form of assault, but in fact strangulation can cause high-impact brain injury because the entire brain sustains injury from the lack of oxygen.

Medical professionals need to be aware that when a person presents with injuries caused by blows from her intimate partner – and most especially, any history of strangulation – the possibility of a brain injury must be considered.

As many as 90 per cent of women who have experienced intimate partner violence have a brain injury as a result of that violence. Some have multiple brain injuries. For every one NHL hockey player who incurs a brain injury, an estimated 5,500 women incur one at the hands of their intimate partner.

A woman with an undiagnosed brain injury may present with these kinds of issues:

  • be easily distracted
  • have difficulties learning new things
  • have trouble following instructions and remembering appointments or chores
  • be tired and irritated easily
  • get angry or rage at her children or others
  • have difficulties adapting to life in a communal shelter setting

Here are some excellent sites and important reads for getting familiar with this critically important issue:

Learn more at the following links:

The Cridge Centre for the Family – Intimate Partner Violence/Brain Injury information

Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research (SOAR)

Abused and Brain Injured: University of Toronto research and information portal and toolkit (you’ll find specific research projects at this site as well

ABIResearchLab – Identifying traumatic brain injury in survivors

Final report on Deliberative Dialogue Session on Intimate Partner Violence/Brain Injury – February 2020, Nanaimo Brain Injury Society

Shining a Light on Intimate Partner Violence and Brain Injury – University of Toronto, Temerty Faculty of Medicine