British Columbia

Nanaimo conference looks at link between brain injuries and domestic violence

The Nanaimo Brain Injury Society is hosting a one-day workshop called Intimate Partner Violence and Acquired Brain Injury with front-line workers, researchers, service providers and survivors of violence to improve care for those suffering from brain injuries due to domestic violence.

50 to 75% of women in physically violent relationship likely to have brain injury

A research trainee uses an ultrasound at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus, in Kelowna, B.C., in an undated handout photo. The ultrasound is one way UBC scientists are looking for evidence of traumatic brain injury in survivors of intimate partner violence. (UBC Okanagan/The Canadian Press)

Every year thousands of Canadian women experience intimate partner violence and with it the risk of traumatic brain injuries.

The connection and its implications are largely unexplored, according to the Nanaimo Brain Injury Society. That's why the group is hosting a one-day workshop called Intimate Partner Violence and Acquired Brain Injury on Thursday with front-line workers, researchers, service providers and survivors of violence. The goal is to improve care for those affected.

Lin Haag, PhD candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University's faculty of social work, is attending the conference. She told On The Island host Gregor Craigie that 50 to 75 per cent of all women experiencing physical violence in an intimate partner relationship are likely to have some form of brain injury. 

Of nearly 96,000 victims of intimate partner violence reported to police in Canada in 2017, 79 per cent were women, according to Statistics Canada.

Nneka MacGregor, executive director of Toronto non-profit WomenatthecentrE,who is also a guest at the conference, told Craigie the effects of a brain injury can be life-altering.

"It impacts their ability to just exist in the world," MacGregor said, adding that a brain injury can impact memory and other relationships.

"It's a really, really serious health consequence that most people are unaware of."

MacGregor said one reason why many of these brain injuries aren't well-known or documented is because a lot of money and time has gone toward researching brain injuries in male-dominated sports, including football and hockey.

The research around brain injuries has been male-centred, according to Haag.

She said next steps include working with researchers around the world so there is one strong data set that can be used for an educational campaign. The information would be shared with services that women who are experiencing domestic violence often seek out such as family court services and employment support.

They're also looking to identify screening mechanisms for organizations that deal with intimate partner violence victims such as first responders or health-care providers, so they can address the clients' needs on a case-to-case basis.  

With files from On The Island and Brenna Owen