In March 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a 65-page report to Congress about traumatic brain injury (TBI). In between pages of research and recommendations examining the diagnosis, treatment, and effects of traumatic brain injury, were stock photos of people wearing helmets while bicycling, seniors receiving treatment, or folks buckled up for a car ride. The report, “Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States: Epidemiology and Rehabilitation,” notes that TBI is a major cause of death and disability in the United States and contributes to approximately one-third of all injury deaths. TBI can be caused by “a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury” that “disrupts the normal function of the brain.” The document stated that the most common causes of TBI-related hospitalization were falls, car accidents, and assault.
Most recently, TBI has been a topic of discussion surrounding the number of football players who sustain concussions and permanent damage from the physical brutality of the sport. But there’s a lesser-known cause off the field: Noticeably absent from the CDC’s report was mention of domestic violence as a potential cause of debilitating brain injuries. While the report gave specific recommendations for monitoring and identifying sports-related concussions, assault was not elaborated on as a cause. Its section on specific populations to consider included children, seniors, rural residents, people who are incarcerated, and those who have served in the military, but not victims of domestic violence. The word “sports” appeared 24 times in the document, the word “women” appeared once.
Each year in the United States, approximately 4.8 million physical assaults are perpetrated against women by an intimate partner, an underestimation due to overall lack of reporting among survivors. There is a causal association between TBI and intimate partner violence (IPV), and yet because of the personal variables associated with TBI, there have been few source studies amounting to statistical links. However, in a 2002 article from Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, “Traumatic Brain Injury: A Hidden Consequence for Battered Women,” researchers surveyed 53 women who experienced domestic violence about their injuries and found 92 percent reported being hit in the head or face during partner violence. Seventy-seven percent reported experiencing symptoms like dizziness, memory gaps, nausea, confusion, and feeling “out of it.”