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A study recently published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma has found that a staggering number domestic violence survivors experience head and brain injuries as a result of their abuse. 81 percent, or over four in five, of women who sought help after being domestically abused had a head injury. Additionally, 83 percent of them have been violently choked.

The study included 49 domestic abuse survivors from Ohio and was completed by researchers from Ohio State University and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. Nearly half of the survivors reported they had been hit in the head or had their head shoved into an object too many times to remember. On top of that, over half of them were choked or strangled “a few times”, and 20 percent said it happened too many times to remember. Some survivors experienced both forms of abuse several times.

These statistics reveal just how commonly domestic violence survivors experience dangerous blows to the head. The study also acknowledges the likelihood that many domestic abuse survivors are walking around with undiagnosed brain injuries they aren’t even aware of, especially because one in three U.S. women has experienced physical violence by an intimate partner.

While previous research has linked domestic violence to brain injury, this is the first study to establish that many of those with repeated head injuries also experience multiple instances of oxygen deprivation through strangulation. While brain injuries are extremely dangerous on their own, the combination of brain injury with oxygen deprivation can lead to even more lingering health problems, including:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Behavioral issues
  • Difficulty understanding or remembering things
  • Loss of motivation
  • Recurring nightmares
  • Vision and hearing difficulty

These findings could serve to improve brain injury care by giving medical providers the awareness that domestic abuse survivors should be regularly screened for brain injury. Lead study author, Julianna Nemeth, says that doctors “really need to be ruling out brain injury, not ruling it in for survivors. It needs to be one of the issues that everyone who is interacting with a domestic violence survivor needs to consider.”

As medical research progresses, it will become increasingly clear where increased efforts need to lie in providing high-quality health care for head and brain injury prevention treatment. In the meantime, it is critically important for individuals who sustain possible brain injuries to seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

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