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Domestic Abuse Victims Suffer the Same Brain Injuries As Football Players

Brain damage is a real concern for victims of domestic abuse. Photo: Francesco Sambati/EyeEm/Getty Images

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, known as CTE, is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma to the head and has long been found in athletes; earlier this year, an NFL official even (sort of) admitted that there’s a link between football and CTE, which can lead to memory loss, depression, and anxiety. But although there’s growing awareness of the link between sports or armed service and CTE, a third group is often left out of the equation: domestic abuse survivors.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “About one-quarter of U.S. women and 14 percent of men have experienced severe physical assaults by a partner in their lifetime, including hitting, punching, being slammed against something hard or pushed down stairs.” And injuries from domestic abuse can result in brain damage in 60 percent of survivors, according to research published in the journal Family & Community Health. Researchers frequently choose to study football players or veterans over domestic abuse survivors; not knowing the lasting effects of concussions on survivors can make them more vulnerable to conditions like degenerative brain disease down the line, the Associated Press reports.

One of the problems is that symptoms of CTE and other neurological problems don’t often crop up immediately; they’re more likely to develop over time. Another is that we’re usually more concerned with the immediate physical well-being of domestic abuse victims as opposed to injuries that could invisibly effect them in the future.

“When Janay Rice was knocked out cold in the elevator, attention was all about how Ray Rice had previous concussions,” Dr. Javier Cardenas, a trauma consultant for the NFL, told the AP. “Nobody mentioned that the woman in the elevator suffered a brain injury right in front of everybody’s eyes.”

Ashley Bridwell, a social worker, established a program at the Barrow Institute in Phoenix last year that offers free neurological treatment to domestic abuse survivors. She said she lobbied for the program after she noticed many women in homeless shelters displayed symptoms of long-term brain damage. “Some were slammed into a wall or down a flight of stairs,” she said. “These women have lived pretty hard lives.”

Domestic Abuse Victims Can Suffer Permanent Brain Damage