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BIAA Webinar Addresses Needs of Domestic Violence Survivors with Brain Injury

Categories: ACBIS Insider

By The Brain Injury Association of America

While conducting community-partnered research in Ohio in 2017, Julianna Nemeth, Ph.D., discovered that probable brain injury was common among survivors of domestic violence and intimate partner violence, yet was frequently unrecognized by those providing services to this population.

“Despite overwhelming adoption of trauma-informed care and the impact trauma-informed care has had on victim service delivery, and domestic violence and sexual assault crisis centers in the past two decades, we really did miss that repeated head trauma and strangulation leads to acquired brain injury,” Dr. Nemeth shared during a recent webinar hosted by the Brain Injury Association of America.

The Mitchell Rosenthal Research Webinar, “Accommodating Brain Injury in Trauma-Informed Care to Address the Diverse Needs of Domestic Violence Survivors,” shared information about Dr. Nemeth’s research into how brain injury affects survivors of domestic violence, including whether or not they seek help from social services, their ability to access health care, and how many of the physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms they experience may be linked to traumatic or anoxic brain injury. As well, Dr. Nemeth, an assistant professor for health behavior and health promotion at the Ohio State University College of Public Health, intervention scientist, and co-founder of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, shared information about the importance of adopting a trauma-informed care approach when providing services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

In a sampling of 49 interview-administered surveys of domestic violence survivors, two-thirds of respondents reported they had either been hit in the head, or made to have their head hit another object, more than once, with nearly half of respondents reporting this had happened “too many times to remember.” Additionally, more than 70 percent of respondents reported being strangled or choked more than once.

Dr. Nemeth also addressed that many domestic violence survivors experience symptoms that, while may be attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder, may also be attributed to brain injury. In particular, approximately 41 percent of survivors accessing services reported problems with balance, while 15 percent reported experiencing seizures.

“Brain injury was not on anyone’s radar – not advocates, not survivors,” Dr. Nemeth noted.

In the webinar, Dr. Nemeth outlines the approach of trauma-informed care, which assumes that events or circumstances experienced by individuals as life-threatening or harmful – known as trauma – have lasting effects on a person’s well-being and functioning, and how it applies to survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault. Dr. Nemeth noted that certain populations are targeted at higher rates for domestic and sexual violence, including women, children, gender and sexual minoritized populations, racial and ethnic minoritized populations, those living with disabilities, and those displaced by war or natural disaster, and that these populations often experience other disparities, including within health care and public safety. As a result, many are resistant to seek services, and brain injury from violence may further contribute to survivors’ struggles to successfully engage services. “Because of this, domestic violence service organizations have not historically provided accommodations for survivors living with brain injury, which may be an impediment to carrying forth the principles of trauma-informed care and practice,” Dr. Nemeth noted.

To listen to the full webinar and learn more about implementing trauma-informed care in responding to the needs of domestic violence survivors living with brain injury, visit


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