The terrible injury often overlooked in domestic violence
IT'S the late night phone call that
every parent dreads. A police officer is on the line. Come quickly,
the officer says, something terrible has happened to your
This is how Ian and Helen Barker, along with their son Glenn,
found themselves driving from their home in the Victorian town of
Benalla to Wangaratta Hospital just before 11pm on March 7,
2002. The Barkers' vivacious and sporty 16-year-old daughter,
Anj, had been brutally bashed by her erratic and controlling
ex-boyfriend* on the grounds of Benalla's local high school.
When they arrived at the hospital, a doctor advised them "not
to go and see her" because Anj's condition was so bad. The feeling
Helen had was "indescribable".
"At one stage a nurse came out, just not long after we had
arrived, and handed me her necklace, which was covered in
"I can remember just standing there holding it. Looking at it and
thinking: 'Oh my God. What has he done?'," Helen says.
Ignoring the doctor's advice, the family waited to see Anj.
Meanwhile, medical staff were urgently working to stabilise her
before she could be airlifted by helicopter to Royal Melbourne
Hospital. Helen then overheard a conversation that will stay
with her forever. "The police had rang and a doctor had been
called out to speak to the police. The doctor said: 'No, she's not
dead yet'," Helen recalls.
"I nearly collapsed," she says, adding, "the police apparently
wanted to know whether he [Anj's ex-boyfriend] was going to be
charged with assault or murder."
When the Barkers finally saw their beloved daughter, she was
unrecognisable. Her head was swollen and she was covered in blood
and bruises. Anj's head had been hit against a steel bench multiple
times. She had been strangled and kicked and her face had been
stomped on, smashing her jaw and fracturing her skull.
"There was tubes everywhere," Helen says, and "her ear was really
swollen and there was blood running out of her ear." Another
nurse told the family this wasn't just blood but brain fluid too
and they should prepare for the worst.
Anj didn't die from her horrific injuries but instead, embarked on
a long and often painful recovery. She spent eight weeks in
hospital, four months in rehab and another two years in a nursing
home. It took her five years to learn to talk again. The
severity of Anj's injuries and her courage in speaking out against
domestic violence, have led to national and international
But researchers suspect that most brain injuries caused by
domestic violence fly under the radar. According to a 2007 study by
American neuropsychologist Dr Martha Banks, up to 94 per cent of
female domestic violence victims seeking medical help sustain
facial injuries. "It is difficult to seriously injure the head or
face without simultaneously injuring the brain," Dr Banks
Despite this, "traumatic brain injury is often overlooked as a
consequence of those injuries," she states in the paper.
References and further information