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Domestic Violence is a Common Cause of TBI

Updated: May 20, 2023

The video footage of Gabby Petito demonstrating how Brian Laundrie grabbed her face was a clear sign she was a victim of intimate partner violence (IPV).

In the past weeks, we have been absorbed in this case and domestic violence (DV) survivors recognize this to be a clear signal demonstrating to the world how IPV is wrongly dismissed. During the body camera footage from a police officer, Petito demonstrates how Laundrie grabbed her face during a previous altercation. An ominous sign of what was to come.

DV survivors relive their personal experiences every time examples of a violent relationship present and this community of survivors predicted the unfortunate outcome of Gabby’s shortened life. Laundries’ countless “I’m sorry about that” and his quick story blaming Gabby as he spoke with the officer is another all too familiar method abusers use when law enforcement interview them. This hits home too hard for DV survivors; lie after lie after lie.

Unfortunately, Petito’s fellow DV victims were correct. After Laundrie arrived alone back in Florida and Petito found strangled to death and, then Laundrie “disappeared” without a hint of knowledge as recounted by his family is certainly suspect. Similar to a Hollywood scene, the family “lawyered-up” instead of being more cooperative with law enforcement. WHY? The truth ultimately prevails so why can’t people acknowledge the wrongfulness, stand up and do the right thing and tell the truth? This is the path that DV survivors are trying to bring to light the seriousness of IPV and help to ensure that women do not continue to fall victim to this cycle of abuse.

It is our goal to pay tribute to Gabby, to fellow DV survivors and educate others to help recognize signs and symptoms before another needless murder occurs.

National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To continue to raise awareness, and to highlight how domestic violence (DV) can be related to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), this week’s article will provide our readers with statistics and information about how to care and support individuals affected by DV.

Domestic violence is defined by violence that takes place inside of a household, happening between any two people within that household. Whereas intimate partner violence, a type of DV defined by only being able to happen between romantic partners who might or might not live in the same household. Both are not simply acts of physical violence, but also encompass patterns of behavior in the relationship that is being used to gain or maintain control and power over the victim. This can be through physical, sexual, emotional, economical, or psychological actions or threats.

How to recognize the signs

Disproportionally impacting women, severe physical violence within a domestic setting can lead to brain injuries, forever impacting the individual’s life. Victims of DV may not realize that they have sustained a TBI because there are no other obvious signs of trauma or related symptoms. What’s more, since they are unaware of a possible TBI, medical care or therapy are not sought out, thus leading to another vicious cycle, neurological damage. TBI damage can impact a person’s ability to think, impair sight, balance, communication, and exasperate emotions and because DV is tagged as a “passionate crime” these symptoms are often dismissed because authorities wrongfully assume these signs are emotionally driven when the probability is more likely these are symptoms of a TBI.

One of the most conducive signs and destructive form of DV and IPV is strangulation. Chocking and strangulation deprives the brain from receiving oxygen. This repeated behavior can then cause hypoxia, which in turn causes a brain injury. Often, when deprivation of oxygen is extended it leads to loss of consciousness (LOC). LOC is frequently associated with permanent medical ramifications. Beyond LOC, constructed blood vessels lead them to be popped within the eyes, which is presented by red eyes. Police offices are trained to recognize the presentation of these experiences; however, whether it is fear the victim is experiencing or shame or even crying, victims and police officers may not recognize this obvious ocular sign because of the emotional turmoil. Distinguishing red-crying eyes from signs of abuse must be done through a neuro-ophthalmic exam. For the safety of our loved ones, domestic abuse training and recognition can save lives but now is the time to improve the process.

Helpful tool

There is an essential TBI screening tool that can be used to help DV survivors check in on their head health. Using the acronym HELPS, there are a series of questions to help identify the possibility of a TBI.

After running through these questions, an individual could be considered a to be at risk for a head injury if:

  1. An event that could have caused a brain injury is identified through answering yes to H, E or S.

  2. There was a period of loss of consciousness or altered consciousness, following this event, by answering yes to L or E.

  3. If any of the problems listed under P were not present before the injury.

Following this, visiting with a medical provider to check in about brain and head health would be the recommended next step.

Added difficulty to recover.

Recovering from a DV relationship or experience is difficult enough as it is. Individuals continue to feel unsafe in their bodies and struggle to regulate their emotions. They begin to process their trauma and recognize the impact victimization has had on them. When this process is confounded by a TBI it becomes even harder to recover.

Self-esteem is drained, depleted and survivors that have not yet made the break from the abusive environment are often reminded by their abuser they are worthless, causing their confidence to plummet hindering their ability to leave even more. Victims already live in fear, so removing themselves from this situation is like a mental “house of cards” we play with ourselves. We struggle with the shame, the bad memories, the I told you so’s, keeping us in the perpetual cycle of abuse. It is frightening and daunting. If a DV victim has a TBI, it confounds this cycle even more making it harder for them to create and maintain a safety. We must ask the question, “Could it be that possible cognitive deficits a TBI can make it harder for them to assess the potential dangers of their situations and to react appropriately?”. We at Power of Patients believe it to be true.

How to help

If you or someone you know is a victim of an abusive relationship and domestic violence, know that someone wants to listen and provide you (or them) with the time, safe and confidential place for you to share, when ready.

How we can help

Power of Patients can help TBI and DV survivors by providing them with a confidential virtual platform for them to track and document their health. Sallie allows users to track symptoms ranging from cognitive, physical, emotional, visual and speech, which all influence TBIs. DV survivors may not realize that the presence of some of these symptoms is an indicator of a possible brain injury. Having them go through our registration process could be the revelation they need to understand that their health is in jeopardy. The addition of our journaling feature also provides users the space to share anything and everything they are feeling or facing day to day. Our reports allow users to check back in on what they have written and encourage reflection. As a first step, Sallie collects data on LOC to help survivors recognize that if this has happened to them, because of abuse, it could mean that they should monitor themselves for health changes. Roughly 35% of our current users report losing consciousness after sustaining their TBI. How many of these individuals could have been left unconscious at the hands of a household member?

Register for Sallie today and begin your recovery process.

Power of Patients will support an NIH grant application with Mt Sinai that will examine cognitive impairment and dementia risk in intimate partner violence survivors. We are proud to be partnering with experts in IPV and to be devoting efforts towards this rising public health concern. If you are interested in learning more about this, register on our platform and send us a confidential message here to learn more.

Domestic Violence Resources:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline(NDVH) at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or TTY 1-800-787-3224 and website at org.

  • Teens can contact the National Teen Dating Abuse Helplineat 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453 or visit org.

Being able to reach a safe space and remove themselves from harm’s way, gaining or retaining employment and financial stability is also negatively impacted by a TBI for a DV survivor. Their ability to engage in educational opportunities and live independently is proven to be challenging as well. Power of Patients wants to help fellow survivors. Reach out and inquire how we can help you.

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