More than Bruises: Domestic Violence & Traumatic Brain Injuries

Victims of domestic abuse are often subject to many types of physical abuse. Currently, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men report having been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.1 Because victims of domestic abuse are subject to these types of assaults, they are at particular risk of developing traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Recently, lead researchers at the Sojourn Center estimated that as many as 20 million women could receive a TBI (related to domestic violence) diagnosis this year.

So what is a TBI? A TBI, as defined by the Mayo Clinic, is an injury to the brain caused by an external physical force. Three types of injuries fall under this category: (i) penetrating injuries (where an object pierces through the skull), (ii) closed head injuries (where the blow does not open the skull), and (iii) cutting off oxygen due to strangulation. TBI can have both short-term and long-term effects, ranging from cognitive difficulties, such as decreased ability to pay attention and solve problems, to changes in behavior, irritability, and loss of coordination. In addition, a TBI can cause memory loss, headaches, and difficulty in communicating with others.2

Unfortunately, TBIs are severely underreported by victims of domestic violence. This is, in large part, because a TBI is an invisible wound that many people may not even be aware they have. To make matters worse, many may have experienced repeated trauma to the head and are unable to recover from their injuries properly. Repeated trauma to the head may spiral into what is referred to as “second impact syndrome,” where the brain swells dangerously after being hit for a second time without having enough time to recover from the initial injury.

When dealing with victims of domestic abuse, behaviors such as missing appointments, being unable to follow step-by-step instructions, or following through on a task, may be chalked up to behavioral issues when, in fact, an undiagnosed TBI is to blame. The undiagnosed TBI can impair victims’ daily functioning and their abilities to care for their children. It can also cause victims to appear disorganized or confused in a courtroom setting. 

At JCADA, we provided in-service trainings to educate our staff on TBIs and other related matters. Our clinicians are trained to ask the proper questions to screen for a TBI and know what to do when they suspect someone is suffering from a TBI. They are also trained to incorporate mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, to help clients. It is important to normalize what the victim is feeling while at the same time giving them the proper referrals, education about their condition, and support.To learn more about domestic abuse and TBIs, visit:

No Visible Bruises: Domestic Violence and Traumatic Brain Injury

CDC – Traumatic Brain Injury


2New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.