October is Domestic Violence Month, a campaign initiated to raise awareness of the multitude of issues facing victims and provide needed support.
Did you know on average, 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States according to the CDC?
This equates to over 10 million women and men being victimized each year.
One in four women will become a victim of domestic violence during their lifetime and greater than 90 percent of the injuries sustained are to the face, neck, and head.
In a study conducted by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence examining women in three domestic violence shelters researchers found:
92 percent of the women questioned had been hit in the head by their partners more than once
83 percent were hit in the head and shaken severely
8 percent were hit in the head over 20 times in the preceding year.
In addition to being struck in the head or neck, other common causes of brain injury associated with domestic violence are:
Being pushed against a wall or other surface;
Being thrown down a flight of stairs;
Being subject to shaking or strangulation;
Being subject to suffocation because of the head and face being pushed against a mattress or pillow
A victim of domestic violence may sustain a traumatic brain injury with no obvious signs of trauma and are never evaluated or treated for this injury.
Constant headaches, mood and behavior issues, and cognitive impairments are frequently reported and observed in domestic violence survivors, but all too frequently the underlying cause of their difficulties are not identified and their signs and symptoms are ignored.
Because despite all the knowledge we have accumulated about traumatic brain injury, law enforcement, the judicial system, our medical system, and even domestic violence shelters still do not universally screen for TBI when domestic violence is suspected or reported.
As an attorney and advocate for brain injury survivors, I am concerned that victims of domestic violence are frequently abused again by the civil justice system.
When a domestic violence victim appears in court for a protective order or seeking custody of her children, she may be late to court or miss a required appearance date or may not articulate crucial facts because of cognitive impairment.
Because of behavioral and emotional trauma associated with the brain injury received, a domestic violence survivor may be accused of poor parenting skills and be deprived of custody.
Emotional outbursts in Court may cause Judges and others to view the victim with skepticism and dismiss their arguments.
Although care, support, and rehabilitation is required following a brain injury, abusive spouses are rarely ordered to pay for needed treatment.
Law enforcement personnel must be educated about the signs and symptoms of brain injury.
Proper screening of domestic violence victims needs to take place in physician offices, urgent care centers and emergency departments.
Domestic violence shelters need to screen all those seeking assistance for a traumatic brain injury.
The matrimonial bar needs to learn more about traumatic brain injury because they frequently are in a position to make necessary referrals for treatment.
The judiciary needs to understand the physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavior signs and symptoms of TBI and treat domestic violence survivors with dignity and respect.
All survivors of domestic violence must be screened for various forms of physical abuse that could lead to brain injury. A special screening tool known as “HELPS” aids in determining whether a victim entering a domestic violence shelter should be seen by a qualified medical provider for further evaluation.
Here are questions that should be asked by all those who interact with victims of domestic violence:
Together during domestic violence awareness month, let’s raise awareness of domestic violence and brain injury.
You can learn more on our web site: https://brainlaw.com/brain-injuries/domestic-violence/