It might be fair to say that when most people consider concussions, they think of injuries from vehicle accidents or slip and falls. They might also think of professional football players who are tackled every game, their heads bouncing off the ground or off of each other. There is another group of people, however, who commonly experience concussions: victims of domestic abuse.
The truth is that abuse victims suffer from head trauma as much as sports professionals, but they often do not receive the same amount of treatment or the same media attention. The reasons why concussions are overlooked in these victims can include accusations from the abuser themselves, and police misidentifying symptoms of brain trauma.
An op-ed published by the Washington Post, and written by medical professionals, discusses the shocking rate of concussions among domestic abuse survivors. Per their findings, “Research at Ohio’s domestic violence agencies has shown that over 80 percent of survivors accessing services have experienced some type of abuse that could lead to concussion or another type of brain injury.” Causes include hard or heavy items being thrown at their head, victims being thrown into hard surfaces, and acts of physical assault. Over thirty percent of women in the world will suffer from domestic abuse from their partner over their lifetime, showing this is a much more common risk than previously disclosed.
These survivors, similar to boxers or football players, are likely to suffer repeat head injuries during their relationship with their abusive partner. The article stated that “repetitive head trauma is extremely common, with close to 50 percent of survivors having been hit in the head too many times to count.”
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs when the head experiences a sudden and forceful impact. When this occurs, damage can be done to the brain, possibly causing swelling in the brain and leading to internal bleeding. While there are some TBIs that can heal on their own with rest over a few days, others require immediate medical attention, including surgery and/or therapy.
Concussions are generally mild, and heal over time with rest and low activity. However, they are not always so easily treated, and an ignored concussion can lead to complications, and even long term conditions and brain damage. Symptoms of a concussion include: headaches, nausea, dizziness, problems with memory, loss of consciousness, vomiting, and blurry vision. Symptoms do not always present immediately, and can show up even up to a week after the injury. Concussions should be treated seriously as they can lead to complications that can put someone’s life at risk, and cause long-term cognitive issues.
Why concussions may be underreported in domestic violence cases
When police are called to the scene of a domestic abuse situation, they often misdiagnose symptoms of a concussion (memory issues, slurring, increased anxiety and depression, and headaches) as symptoms of a drug or alcohol problem or as mental health issues. These false assumptions are only reinforced when the abuser claims that the person who was abused is only acting like they are because they do have a drug/alcohol problem, or they do suffer mental health problems.
It is important that first responders and law enforcement learn to recognize and consider the symptoms that a person may be demonstrating as signs of head trauma brought on by the abuse they say they have suffered from, instead of questioning the validity of their claims. The victims themselves may not recognize the symptoms of head trauma, and may be gaslit to think that they are mentally unstable.
Finally, the article insists that as a society we can do better to help domestic abuse survivors by learning to recognize symptoms of head trauma from abuse for what they are; that certain methods and evidence-based approaches to advocacy should be used by law enforcement officers when reporting to the scene of a domestic abuse call.
How is a concussion dangerous?
While a concussion can be dangerous if it is not treated with the recommended treatment of rest and observation, the real danger comes from further repeated blows to the head before the previous injury has had time to heal. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) repeated head impacts can lead to long term complications such as:
- Experiencing longer recovery or more severe symptoms.
- Having long-term problems, including ongoing problems with concentration, memory, headache, and occasionally, physical skills, such as keeping one’s balance.
While research is ongoing, repeat head trauma may be linked to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). A disease that can only be diagnosed after death, CTE has been linked to changes in the brain and how it works. The disease is most commonly associated with contact sports, or activities that lead to repeated blows to the head. As a degenerative brain condition, symptoms are similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease. Other groups who tend to suffer from CTE include military veterans and people who experience assault, such as victims of domestic abuse.
It is clearly important that we should take head injuries, including concussions, seriously. While the injury is generally mild, and can usually be treated easily over a few days, underestimating the damage it is capable of is a grave mistake. While footballers and other professional sports players suffer greatly from these injuries due to the nature of their profession, abuse victims need to be given more attention for the often repeated trauma to their head caused by the wrongful abuse dealt by their partners. If we all (especially law enforcement officers and first responders) could better identify the symptoms of a head injury, further harm could be prevented from happening. If you have suffered from a concussion or other head injury whether on a sports team or otherwise, and proper head injury protocol was not followed, you can seek compensation for your pain and suffering.