A Vancouver Island nonprofit organization said there is an urgent need to expand its brain injury supports to reach victims of domestic violence.
Between 35 and 80 per cent of women who experience domestic violence suffer a traumatic brain injury, according to the Journal of Women’s Health. Most domestic violence related injuries are from blows to the face, head and neck, including strangulation, leaving survivors vulnerable to traumatic brain injury.
“Brain injury is the unseen disability that affects so many things,” said Joanne Linka, manager of communication and fund development at the Cridge Centre for the Family, which provides housing and support for people with brain injuries in Greater Victoria.
“This is a story we’ve been telling for 30 years, trying to leverage dollars and resources for this work. So when we started seeing the research about women impacted by intimate partner violence a few years ago, that jumped out at us.”
The Cridge said it has developed a plan that includes direct services, research participation, training and support for front-line workers to recognize brain injury, advocacy to raise awareness and funding support, and prevention.
That prevention piece includes working with male abusers to reduce abusive behaviours and learn to regulate their emotions, Linka said, adding more than half of male abusers have suffered a brain injury themselves.
Women could be routinely experiencing one brain injury after another in cases of ongoing violence, Linka said.
Domestic violence is the primary cause of physical injury to Canadian women aged 15–44 and is associated with high rates of mental illness, unemployment and poverty, according to the Journal of Women’s Health. Repeated trauma to the head can result in symptoms such as fatigue, depression and mood changes, memory loss, confusion, aggression, impaired judgment and can lead to dementia and other chronic health conditions.
“A brain injury can affect a woman’s ability to work, to function, to parent, to manage her life. We know the spiral into poverty, addiction and criminal activities. They need support early,” said Linka.
“Seeing what goes on for the women who we serve, it’s heart wrenching to know that they will struggle for the rest of their lives,” she said. “And that is where we come in. We can help them find the support they need to reduce that struggle.”
With the right kind of individualized services, Linka noted, people can adapt and learn new ways to manage their lives in healthy, safe ways.
The Cridge is a faith-based community social services agency that has been operating for 148 years. Around 2,000 people access its eight programs each year, according to the organization.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates one third of women are abused by intimate partners over their lifetime.