The Intersection of Brain Injury and Domestic Violence
The head and face are among the most common targets of intimate partner assaults, and victims of domestic violence often suffer head, neck and facial injuries. Common forms of physical assault that can cause a brain injury include:
- Forcefully hitting partner on the head with an object.
- Smashing her head against a wall.
- Pushing her downstairs.
- Shooting or stabbing her in the head.
- Shaking her – which moves her brain in a whip-lash motion, smashing it against her skull.
- Obstructing her airway, causing loss of oxygen to her brain, through:
- Strangling her. (She will likely call it “choking.”)
- Trying to drown her.
- Forcing her to use drugs or eat foods to which she is allergic.
- 92% had been hit in the head by their partners, most more than once.
- 83% had been both hit in the head and severely shaken.
- 8% of them had been hit in the head over 20 times in the past year.
- The more times individuals had been hit in the head or shaken, the more severe, and the more frequent, were their symptoms.1
Because batterers seldom assault their partners only once, some victims suffer repeated head injuries. One study of women in three domestic violence shelters found that:
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Difficulty making decisions and solving problems (and other people think her decisions show poor judgment).
- Memory problems.
- Feeling overwhelmed.2
Are these symptoms of a brain injury, or do they result from the stress of living with an abusive partner? If she has a brain injury, is the stress of domestic violence exacerbating her TBI-related symptoms? How is the brain injury affecting her ability to cope with abuse? It is important not to jump to conclusions, and to screen carefully for both brain injury and domestic violence.
- Jackson, H., et al. (2002). Traumatic Brain Injury: A Hidden Consequence for Battered Women. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33, 1, 39-45.
- See Jackson, H., et al. (2002). Traumatic Brain Injury: A Hidden Consequence for Battered Women. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33, 1, 39-45.