January 21, 2020

Domestic abuse and brain injury – a hidden issue?

Almost a year on from its introduction, the Domestic Abuse Bill is still working its way through Parliament. The Disabilities Trust has recently called for the government to ensure that the needs of victims of domestic abuse who have suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are addressed within the Bill. This following a study into female offenders at Drake Hall Prison.

Recent stats on brain injury and domestic violence

The study showed that 64% of women screened had a history of TBI and 62% of those sustained the TBI as a result of domestic violence. This highlights a striking correlation for women in prison having a TBI and that being a victim of domestic violence is the most likely cause. This is in comparison to a similar study by The Disabilities Trust of male offenders screened at Leeds Prison which showed that 47% of men had a TBI and the most likely cause was fights at 41%.

Domestic abuse in all its forms is sadly a reality that goes well beyond cases which might make the headlines. Domestic abuse is multifaceted; both women and men being victims. Emotional and psychological abuse, as well as financial abuse and coercive control, are now recognised as more subtle but just as damaging forms of domestic abuse. All can have long-lasting effects on the victim’s physical and mental wellbeing, although physical and sexual violence are more likely to generate life-changing injuries., such as TBI.

The impact of brain injury

The consequences of a TBI can be wide-ranging. There can be obvious physical effects, such as weakness or even paralysis, and less apparent physical effects such as fatigue and headaches. A brain injury is also often called a ‘hidden disability’, as many survivors can present well whilst have significant underlying problems.

As an example, injury to the frontal lobe of the brain can leave survivors with cognitive, emotional and behavioural difficulties. This can impair functions such as memory, flexible thinking, reasoning, self-awareness, learning rules, social behaviour and controlling emotions. It is therefore no surprise that some people with TBI can come into contact with the criminal justice system.

How to get help

Domestic abuse often presents as an escalation in the behaviour of the perpetrator. To minimise the risk of suffering life-changing injuries, it is important for a victim to recognise the signs of domestic abuse and act early. There are many amazing charities who offer guidance and support for victims, as well as protective measures that can be accessed through the Family Court – if necessary on an emergency basis – to safeguard the victim or any children of the family.

If circumstances so require, the Family Court can grant a protective injunction to a victim of domestic abuse who is at risk of harm even without prior involvement of the Police and even if the Police – who most victims will turn to in the first instance – have made the decision to take no further action.

If a victim of domestic violence suffers from physical or mental injuries as a result then they may be entitled to compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Compensation can include a lump sum for the personal injuries sustained as well as actual financial loss such as loss of earnings or expenses.

TBI is a real issue for people across the country, and identifying the causes – especially if it helps women avoid falling into the criminal justice system – is crucial. This research from The Disabilities Trust has shone a light on this important issue and we hope their campaign is successful.

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