Women and children who have sustained brain injuries as a result of domestic and family violence are an emerging cohort in urgent need of service responses. In 2017, Brain Injury Australia was commissioned by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services to lead Australia’s first research into family violence and brain injury. Its report – launched by 2015’s Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty (pictured, left) in front of 250 people at Melbourne Town Hall – found 2 in every 5 of the 16,000 victims of family violence attending Victorian hospitals over a decade had sustained a brain injury; nearly 1 in every 3 of the victims of family violence were children. And, of those children, 1 in every 4 had sustained a brain injury.

The research was completed by a consortium led by Brain Injury Australia – comprising Monash University, Domestic Violence Victoria, No to Violence and the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare – in implementation of Recommendation 171 of the Victorian Royal Commission Into Family Violence; “The Victorian Government fund research into the prevalence of acquired brain injury among family violence victims and perpetrators.”

“As alarming as a rate of 40 per cent is, as dramatic a finding as this was,” says Nick Rushworth, Executive Officer of Brain Injury Australia and Consortium Lead on the research, “hospitalisations for brain injuries the result of family violence are bound to be just the proverbial tip of an iceberg.” A 2016 survey of over 100 clients of five domestic violence shelters in the United States found 9 in every 10 reported a head injury with loss of consciousness from domestic and family violence. And, of those, again 9 in every 10 reported “too many head injuries to quantify”. Yet, only 1 in every 5 ever sought medical attention.

Brain Injury Australia’s 8th National Brain Injury Conference welcomes Rachel Ramirez, pictured left, the Founder and Director of The Center on Partner-Inflicted Brain Injury, a project of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN) in the United States. She will deliver a Pre-Conference Workshop on domestic and family violence (DFV) and brain injury at The Abercrombie Building, The University of Sydney Business School, NSW, to increase both individual practitioners’ and organizations’ capacity to better meet the complex unmet needs of victim-survivors.

Founded in 1989, ODVN’s 75 member programs include 57 DFV shelters and 16 non-residential DFV programs. In 2019, ODVN programs sheltered 9,000 DFV survivors, including more than 3,600 children and provided more than 80,000 survivors with services. ODVN is the only statewide organization in the United States that specifically addresses and directly works with advocates who serve survivors and children who are fleeing from DFV. ODVN’s Center on Partner-Inflicted Brain Injury provides statewide, national, and international leadership to raise awareness on the emerging area of brain injury caused by DFV – including traumatic brain injury (from external force applied to the head) and anoxic-hypoxic brain injury (due to oxygen deprivation) caused by strangulation. The Center works to increase collaboration among systems and provide training, technical assistance, consultation, research, and resource development for researchers and practitioners working with victims of DFV.

For the past 13 years at the Network, Rachel has led multiple initiatives on trauma-informed approaches, mental health and substance use, with a recent national focus on partner-inflicted brain injury. She co-authored Trauma-Informed Approaches: Promising Practices and Protocols for Ohio’s Domestic Violence Programs, which was originally published in 2010 and revised in 2019, as well as peer-reviewed research studies in the Journal of Family Violence and the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma. Rachel is a bilingual licensed independent social worker with graduate degrees in Latin American studies and social work and is a registered advocate with senior standing in Ohio.

Paula Walters is the Founder of Standing Courageous Inc. She is a Certified Master Life Coach, a paramedic of 19 years, and a national speaker. She is also a survivor of child abuse, domestic violence, near-fatal strangulation, Traumatic Brain Injury and sexual assault. Since 2015, she and her educational staff have led the charge to raise awareness in first responders, social workers, healthcare professionals, and those working with the abused populations. Paula is passionate about advocating for those that are abused and raising awareness about the psychological, physical, and invisible impacts from traumatic abuse. Drawing upon her thirteen-year journey of several incorrect medical diagnoses, Paula has swiftly become a nationally recognized motivational speaker and educator. After a three-year journey, she is now medicine-free and lives only with a single medical diagnosis – Traumatic Brain Injury. A proponent for total body wellness, functional health, and the concept of “rewiring” after trauma, Paula seeks to inspire others to triumph over personal trauma and tragedy.

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