15 May

Synapse highlights high rate of brain injury caused by domestic violence

During May, Synapse – Australia’s Brain Injury Organisation, is raising awareness about the high rate of brain injury sustained by victims of domestic violence.

Synapse CEO, Jennifer Cullen, said “Domestic and Family Violence Prevention month occurs in May, so we are increasing our efforts to raise awareness about the shockingly high statistics around the number of brain injuries caused by domestic and family violence.”

In 2018, Brain Injury Australia analysed statistics from the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency and found that around 40% of domestic violence victims sustained a brain injury.

Adam Schickerling, Synapse National Director – Strategy and Engagement, said, “These statistics are really alarming and may actually underestimate the true numbers.”

Brain injury can have profound implications for the person and their family for the remainder of their lives and can happen relatively quickly.

“We are increasingly aware that it only takes one punch or a few minutes of strangulation to sustain a brain injury” said Mr Schickerling.

Research has shown that women who have a brain injury through domestic violence experience significant disadvantage and are a high-risk group for further marginalisation including poor health, homelessness, mental health problems and contact with the criminal justice system.

“Synapse is particularly concerned about the level of undiagnosed and untreated brain injury among women in the criminal justice system. We’re partnering with Guthrie House in NSW, who run a residential program for women exiting the criminal justice system to identify whether they have a brain injury,” said Mr Schickerling. “For many of the women, this may be the first time their injury has been acknowledged.”

Depending on the area of the brain that is damaged, people can have debilitating injuries that affect many different areas of their lives including, long-term and short-term memory loss, the ability to remember and sequence basic tasks, physical mobility and the ability to communicate.

Brain injury is often called the invisible disability because there can be minimal physical signs of injury.

“In some cases, victims of domestic violence may appear uninjured or fully recovered” said Mr Schickerling “but they may actually have an undiagnosed brain injury.”

Both men and women can be victims of domestic violence, but according to The Australian Bureau of Statistics, women experience a higher rate of violence. One in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them.

2018 Victorian statistics have shown that 31% of family violence victims were children under the age of 15, and 25% of these children sustained a brain injury.

“Brain injuries can cause personality and behaviour changes, which can make it difficult for parents to care for children” said Mr Schickerling. “You can imagine how challenging it can be for a family unit where both the adults and children are victims of family violence and have sustained a brain injury, as well as psychological trauma.”