Research partnership explores intimate partner violence-related traumatic brain injury

The Cridge Centre
UVic graduate student Chantele Joordens presents findings at frontline workers workshop from research project with The Cridge Centre on lived experiences of survivors of IPV-related TBI

Most of the focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) is on concussion in sport, but according to Valera and Berenbaum’s 2003 study of 99 women who have a history of intimate partner violence (IPV), 75% have experienced one IPV-related TBI and 50% have sustained multiple IPV-related TBIs. These women are often a silent, unrecognized population of TBI survivors.  

The available statistics and emerging literature on IPV-related TBI led program staff at The Cridge Centre for the Family to question whether some of their clients might be survivors of IPV-related TBI. The Cridge Centre, one of Canada’s oldest registered non-profit societies (since 1873), operates a transition house and supportive housing for women and their children fleeing abuse as well as programs that focus on life skills and vocational support for brain injury survivors.  

“Part of our concern when we began to explore the intersection of intimate partner violence and traumatic brain injury was: How can we serve this population? Are we ready? Do we have the capacity? How can we be leaders and pave the way for women survivors who are living with the outcome of a TBI from IPV?” says Candace Stretch, Manager of Supportive Housing and Family Services.

These were just some of the questions that The Cridge Centre hoped that UVic researchers could answer when they connected with Research Partnerships and Knowledge Mobilization (RPKM) Community Partnerships, which in turn connected The Cridge Centre to Dr. Erica Woodin, Associate Professor in Psychology and Chantele Joordens, a UVic graduate student in the Social Dimensions of Health program.

“Non-profits that serve the most vulnerable populations are usually so immersed in the day to day struggles of clients and funding, that research is often at the very bottom of the priority list,” says Joanne Linka, Manager of Communication and Fund Development at The Cridge Centre.

“We know that research is important and supports the work that we do, but we simply don’t have the time or expertise or money to engage in it. Being able to partner with UVic was an amazing opportunity for us to gather the information we need without the struggle of doing the research ourselves.”

Exploring the lived experience of survivors

“While previous research has focused on establishing the link between IPV and TBI, there is a gap in research on the experiences of these women survivors and a lack of understanding from frontline workers. There are currently no TBI screening tools that are culturally appropriate and women-specific to use with women who’ve experienced an IPV-related TBI,” says Joordens whose graduate student research focuses on women who have experienced IPV and have a brain injury as a result.

To address these gaps, Joordens interviewed six Cridge Centre clients between the ages of 35-64 to investigate their experiences with IPV-related TBI. Semi-structured interview questions developed in collaboration with The Cridge Centre guided the conversations with the women sharing their experiences. Joordens also tested the Valera Brain Injury Assessment Interview, for suitability as a TBI screening tool for women who have an IPV-related TBI. Each of the participants in the research project were compensated for their time and directed toward IPV and TBI resources if so needed.

All women in the research project reported multiple TBIs, sometimes once per week for many years, with varying severity ranging from ‘no black outs’ to ‘hours of black outs’. The recency of TBIs (how long ago since the most recent brain injury) varied as well, with all TBIs occurring over 12 months prior to the interview.

Services the women would like to receive:

  • Trauma-informed care/counseling
  • First responders with lived experience who will understand and believe what they are saying
  • More visibility of services for IPV and TBI
  • School programs for kids that teach them about family violence, so they have a space to talk about what is occurring at home
  • A support group for women with children, specifically, so that there is less isolation and the kids have each other
  • Less delay in services. Everything takes so long to get into, but sometimes you need help right away

Training for first responders and judges to know what to look for. It’s not always physical abuse. It’s not always physical evidence. I think a lot of us slip through the cracks and become re-traumatized from a system that doesn’t protect us.

–woman survivor of IPV-related TBI

Research in action at frontline workers’ workshop

On February 21st, The Cridge Centre, UVic and the University of Toronto co-hosted a one-day workshop to inform frontline workers about the ground-breaking research linking TBI and IPV. The main objectives were to raise awareness among frontline workers and first-responders for the importance of early intervention, share available tools of assessment, and discuss the future direction of research.

At the workshop, Joordens presented findings from the research project with The Cridge Centre, driving the discussion on survivor’s experiences and future research needs. The research has also informed an IPV/BI toolkit for frontline workers (developed by The Cridge Centre and the University of Toronto).

“The results are invaluable to us – not just to validate the work that we are doing, but to use in training our staff and other organizations, and in grant proposals to prove the need and impact of the programs we run,” says Linka. “We are very grateful for Chantele’s work and the partnership with UVic.”

Find out more

Facilitated by UVic RPKM, this research is a partnership between The Cridge Centre for the Family and UVic, and this article is written in collaboration. The researcher gratefully acknowledges the financial support from The Cridge Centre and MITACS. For more information about this research, contact .