Safe Harbor and the Brain Injury Association of Virginia (BIAV) have partnered to explore the intersection between domestic violence (DV) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). 

This one-year pilot project is designed to provide data for future intervention and advocacy efforts within the DV population.  During this collaboration, Safe Harbor will screen a portion of new intakes for TBI, using a modified  version of the screening tool called HELPs which asks clients:  have you ever hit your head or been Hit; were you ever seen in an Emergency room; did you ever Lose consciousness; do you experience Problems since your head injury; and do you experience any significant Sicknesses.

Data collected from multiple DV and TBI agencies across the state will be used to modify interventions as needed based on screening results.  Clients who screen positive for TBI will receive specialized care from a local brain injury program.  As a further support for the project, BIAV will create training modules for DV program personnel.  BIAV will also collect and review data throughout the pilot program via an online survey to analyze the project’s effectiveness and make real-time adjustments as necessary. 

“Having these screening tools and close partners in the community can significantly increase and improve the support that individuals who experience DV and TBI receive. We hope to identify best practices and improve overall services for this population statewide,” says Cindy Capriles, Director of Counseling at Safe Harbor.

For years, researchers have focused on the prevention and treatment of TBI.  That work has been concentrated on athletes—from elementary schoolers enrolled in soccer to linebackers in the NFL.  But there’s an important affected group that has been nearly absent in that research until recently:  domestic violence survivors.

Abusers use many tactics to maintain power and control over their victim.  Physical violence, such as blows to the head or strangulation, often result in brain injuries not only from blunt impact but from oxygen deprivation.  The damage from these combined forces can be lifelong—from causing forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating to vision and hearing problems.  These impairments and other chronic health conditions can become permanent disabilities.

Many of these injuries go untreated because survivors don’t seek medical attention.  And if they do receive care, they may be understandably fearful about revealing the true cause of their injuries.  The trauma of the violence combined with the cognition and memory issues from the injury itself leave survivors frustrated and misunderstood.  Another complication is that side-effects may not appear until years down the road when it’s hard to connect them to the original incident.

Safe Harbor and BIAV are optimistic that this partnership will not only improve the outcomes of survivors here in Central Virginia but that the data collected will inform domestic violence and TBI work throughout the state.  Safe Harbor has a long history of not only providing comprehensive services for domestic violence survivors but also, of using measured assessments to improve and refine their services.  This collaboration represents another step in Safe Harbor’s efforts to more effectively rebuild and transform the lives of survivors.