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Brain Injury and Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is a critical public health issue, affecting millions of people.

Brain Injury and Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is a critical public health issue, affecting nearly 2 million people in the UK every year. A growing body of research also shows that domestic abuse is among the top causes of acquired brain injury in women worldwide. However, our studies to date with survivors and practitioners, as well as international research from other organisations, indicate that brain injuries and their effects are not widely recognised or regularly assessed in this population, due to a lack of awareness and training available for professionals and the public.

There is also a clear gap in national data and, therefore, national knowledge, as most published works have not focused on UK populations or prevalence.

With 1 in 3 women globally reporting physical or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV), and up to 92% of blows being to the head, face, or neck, it is imperative that practitioners, decision/policy makers, and affected women be aware of this co-occurrence of IPV and BI and have access to necessary supports.

Colantonio, A. and Valera, E.M., 2022

What is Domestic Abuse?

The UK government’s definition of domestic abuse is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are “personally connected” or have been, and this includes intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.’ Children who see, hear, or experience the effects of the abuse and are related to either of the parties are also considered victims of domestic abuse.

Recent UK data suggests that as many as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are affected by domestic abuse each year.

Our work in this area to date

From 2016-2018, in the first pilot study of its kind in the UK, we provided a dedicated service to support identifying and rehabilitating women with a history of brain injury in HMP/YOI Drake Hall. From this work, we found that domestic abuse is a significant cause of brain injury amongst women in the criminal justice system, with 62% of the women we worked with indicating they had sustained a brain injury through domestic abuse. These findings, published under our former name The Disabilities Trust, can be read in Making the Link – Female Offending and Brain Injury.

It was shortly after this that we convened a roundtable in November 2019, where a panel of experts, including academics and representatives from leading domestic abuse charities and the NHS, came together to discuss the needs of survivors who experience domestic abuse and who may have sustained a brain injury. The discussion from the roundtable was published in our paper, An Invisible Impact,

We discovered gaps in detailed knowledge from the brain injury and domestic violence sectors regarding how best to support survivors. We also discovered a lack of screening for brain injuries and an absence of specialist training.

In the same year, we audited acquired brain injury knowledge in practitioners who support survivors of domestic abuse, with support from a leading domestic abuse charity, SafeLives. A Practitioner’s Perception revealed that 81% of practitioners we spoke with had no training in brain injuries, and 62% felt mostly unprepared to identify symptoms of brain injuries.

What next?

As brain injury experts, Brainkind has sought to work in partnership with survivors, domestic abuse organisations and charities in the UK and the US to understand the breadth of complexities and issues in this area. Our current piece of research, ongoing and due for publication in early 2024, is in collaboration with survivors of domestic abuse and the specialist practitioners who support them across England and Wales.

The research is looking into the prevalence of brain injury amongst survivors of domestic abuse who are accessing services, and how we can best screen for brain injury in a way that supports those affected.

Our team is working hard to gather further evidence to drive a change in policy and process, to bring brain injury and its impacts to the forefront of national discussion and action, ensure its inclusion in training and provide holistic support for survivors across the UK.

Helplines and services

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone. If you would like to speak to someone to get help, we have listed helplines below if you or someone you know is affected by domestic abuse.

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