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The Ugly Truth

Please be aware that this post contains descriptions of violence.

A hidden price: Women who have been beaten by a partner or loved one have all kinds of injuries, but some of the most important are the ones you can’t see. If a man slams a woman’s head against the floor or a wall, or attempts to strangle her, she is very likely to suffer lasting injury to her brain, impairing her ability to think and reason, to control her emotions, to sleep and to remember things.

And yet, these same women are asked to make complex decisions about finding safe shelter for themselves and their children, to defend their actions in court, to change almost everything about their lives…all while coping with a concussion or other brain injury.

Researchers who’ve been working in this field for years are finally being heard as they expose the terrible toll of intimate partner violence, even beyond broken bones and bruises. They’ve found that up to 92% of survivors have been hit in the head or face; their attacker may also have tried to strangle them or throw them down the stairs.

For a long time, if we heard about life-altering injuries from concussions, it was often in the context of professional sports. To put the issue in perspective, the YWCA of Vancouver recently enlisted hockey great Trevor Linden to make a powerful video showing how many more women were affected by concussions because of abuse. Of course, brain injury is terrible no matter where and to whom it happens, but it’s important that the conversation is finally expanding to include victims of violence as well as athletes.

Once you make the connection, the impacts of brain injury on women trying to deal with the aftermath of violence becomes obvious. How can we ask a woman to choose a place to live, answer questions from lawyers, find a job, interact with schools, apply for jobs or make myriad other decisions when her brain is struggling to function? And why on Earth do we ask her to defend herself in custody or other court situations against the very person who damaged her ability to organize thoughts?

If you’re interested in learning more about the research and how to use it to understand the impact of abuse, check out the ABI Toolkit (ABI stands for Abused and Brain Injured) from the related research lab at the University of Toronto and the work of the SOAR Project, based at the University of British Columbia. And if you know anyone in health care, the legal system or any other field where understanding the lasting damage from violence against women is critical, please share this blog post and any of the links it contains. Together, the more we know about concussions and brain injuries and how they affect victims, we can give them the help they need to rebuild their lives.

By Nancy Payne