Intimate partner violence & advocacy

While awareness about the diagnosis and treatment of concussion/mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) has increased in the last decade, most of the focus has been around sports-related injury. Research projects are finding differences in how sex and gender influence recovery outcomes after concussion. One area of research that is growing is women with concussion and mTBI due to intimate partner violence.

  • 35-80% of women affected by IPV experience symptoms of traumatic brain injury[1]
  • 92% of IPV incidents involve hits to the head and face, and strangulation[2]
  • Survivors and care providers can also mistake brain injury symptoms for the emotional distress brought about by the abuse itself[3]

It is estimated that for every NHL player who suffers a concussion during the season, approximately 7,000 Canadian women suffer the same injury at the hands of their intimate partner each year…this equates to about 250,000 new cases every year. 

– Dr. Paul van Donkelaar, co-founder of the Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury Through Research (SOAR) project and professor at the University of British Columbia,

The high prevalence of mTBI in victims of intimate partner violence and the challenge this poses in recovery can no longer be overlooked.

Need for more research & collaboration

Existing research is scarce, limiting the ability of health care providers to develop effective supports. The recent funding from the Government of Canada for the SOAR project out of University of British Columbia’s Okanagan is a huge step in the right direction, but we need to ensure there are tools being implemented to support victims today. Without proper supports, victims of IPV can easily fall through the cracks. Often the symptoms of TBI are overlooked. Individuals face challenges managing everyday tasks and then also have to deal with a range of physical, emotional, behavioral, or cognitive issues indicative of post-concussive symptoms. It’s difficult for victims of IPV to enter the recovery stage if they are subjected to repeated injuries.

Along with more research into the relationships between IPV and brain injury, we need more collaboration between researchers and frontline workers who interact directly with victims of IPV. They need more education in recognizing symptoms of brain injury and how to make referrals to specialists. IPV is an immensely complex situation; the more support and education there is for frontline workers and the general community, the more women will be helped.

Key recommendations

  • Raise awareness about IPV-related TBI
  • Educate front-line workers on IPV-related TBI
  • Early identification of IPV-related TBI with standardized, evidence-based screening tools

Implementation of tools and strategies for those living with IPV-related TBI

Ways to advocate for IPV and brain injury supports

Advocating for more education, research and support for victims of IPV and brain injury can happen in a variety of ways.

  • Share information about IPV and brain injury with your networks, indicating the need for supports and education
  • Support organizations and groups advocating for increases in IPV and  brain injury supports
  • Research the issue thoroughly
  • Write to government officials and representatives

Resources on IPV and brain injury

See sources