“The blind spot was catastrophic: an invisible population plagued, en masse, by invisible injuries that went untreated and unstudied for decades.”
Often overlooked, the injuries stemming from domestic and intimate partner violence can be not only lethal but have long-lasting and life-altering effects on survivors. Some of the most harmful include non-visible injuries such as the traumatic brain injuries sustained by women who have been repeatedly battered, many of whom exhibit memory loss and confusion, dizziness, headaches, hearing and vision problems, and shifts in mood - to name a few.
Comparable to head injuries obtained in sports or the military, decades of studies have proven the intersection between domestic violence and brain trauma leading to neurodegenerative disease. However, the majority of studies conducted on neurodegenerative disease and concussions have examined the male brain. There has been some research, particularly conducted on the brains of athletes, suggesting that women – due to anatomical differences - “may be more vulnerable to concussions than men”. Further, a different study performed on female rats demonstrates how the impact of a concussion diverges between male and female brains. A result of varying neurochemistry and circuitry, the study found that females experience more intense anxiety and depression. Despite this research, there is still a “lack of information about the problem’s scope, much less how to treat it”.
More common than not, symptoms connected with the aftermath of domestic violence tend to be dismissed, misdiagnosed or untreated, leaving survivors in the dark, all the while feeling confused and alone. Typically, symptoms related to traumatic brain injuries are attributed to PTSD. Although an estimated 65% of domestic violence survivors may experience PTSD, this is not always an accurate diagnosis - missing the mark. As the field of science, and advocates alike, continue to become more aware and informed on the effects of trauma on survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence, more research is necessary to understand how the “combined presence of PTSD and traumatic brain injury might affect the brain”.
By and large, greater attention directed towards survivors and victims of domestic violence is warranted. The CDC estimates that “one in five women in the United States experience severe intimate-partner violence over the course of their lifetimes”, and an annual 1.6 million brain injuries among survivors is estimated by Harvard associate professor of psychiatry, Eve M. Valera. The national epidemic of domestic and intimate partner violence has cost the lives and livelihood of one too many women. One thing is for certain, domestic violence and lethality can be prevented if we make this public health issue a priority and dedicate the resources needed for a multi sector, comprehensive, coordinated system of care and prevention.