Domestic Violence Study Reveals Majority of Survivors Suffer Hidden Brain Injuries With Long-term Impact

Photo: (Photo : JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images)

About 80 percent of domestic violence victims suffer from traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that leave them with long-term risks, but they are more than likely to dismiss any physical or emotional symptoms of what they are going through.

Dr. Julianna Nemeth of the Public Health Office in Ohio conducted studies on the effects and risks of traumatic brain injuries acquired through experiences with domestic violence. Since 2016, Nemeth has been working with the Ohio State University experts and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network leaders to come up with clinical protocols for the victims.

The experts said that domestic violence victims have higher chances of developing headaches, vision problems, seizures, and depression or anxieties that could push them to use illegal substances. Domestic violence's physical and emotional impact cripple the victims' ability to hold jobs, retain relationships, or even deal with traumas such as sensitivity to loud noises.

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No Clinical Protocols in Place

Rachel Ramirez, who works with the Center on Partner-Inflicted Brain Injury, which supports Nameth's studies, said that there is still no system to help the adults and kids exposed to this kind of trauma compared to those who have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as military servicemen. There are clinical protocols for brain injuries acquired through sports, such as with professional football players, but there are insufficient resources for domestic violence cases.

In the U.S., one in three women experiences domestic violence with their partner or spouse, which, more often than not, leads to traumatic brain injuries. In Nameth's studies, more than half of the victims said they have been strangled or had their head slammed more times than they can remember.

Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing said that blacking out, even in the slightest minute, following strangulation triggers brain trauma that victims may quickly negate if there are no physical symptoms. Unfortunately, most survivors are not aware or do not recognize the symptoms of brain injuries, putting them more at risk since they won't seek protection from their abuser.

Years of Trauma

Paula Walters, a survivor of domestic violence, acknowledged that overlooking brain injuries often happens among the victims. So, she is working with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network to help police officers, healthcare workers, and social service workers to consider looking into brain injury for someone who has been abused.

In Walters' case, she experienced fainting spells, struggled with concentrating at work and losing control of her emotions. She also had bouts of suicidal thoughts and attempted to take her life because she was still in distress years after her abuse.

Her abusive relationship ended in 2006, but the doctors and experts who cared for her after an ex-boyfriend severely beat her didn't check for brain injuries. Following a car crash in 2017, an MRI showed that Walters had long-term brain trauma.

Nemeth and her team continue to study domestic violence brain injuries. Victims who may need help, resources, or services because of what they are going through may look for more information on their official site.

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