HEAD and neck injuries are most common amongst domestic violence survivors, and in almost a quarter of cases, a blunt or sharp object was used.
In a single year, nearly 6500 women and girls were hospitalised after being assaulted, and of those assaults, 69 per cent took place in the home, more often than not by a spouse or partner, according to new analysis from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
“The rate of hospitalised assault for women and girls varied by age. It was highest in the 20-34 years age group, at a little over 100 cases per 100,000 women,” AIHW spokesperson Professor James Harrison said.
“In the 15-years-and-older age group, eight per cent of victims were pregnant at the time of the assault.”
The AIHW reviewed hospital admissions during 2013-14 to obtain this alarming domestic violence data.
When a perpetrator was identified, 59 per cent were a spouse or domestic partner.
Parents or other family members accounted for nearly half of the remaining cases.
And 61 per cent of the injuries were to the head, while injuries to the body, shoulders and arms were less common.
These latest figures add to other recent global evidence that links domestic violence with the home and to loved ones, and to the type of injuries – most commonly head injuries, which can involve choking, suffocating, strangling or hitting, and can result in brain injuries.
In 2008, AIHW published figures revealing that three women were hospitalised each week with a brain injury due to an assault by their partner.
The figure was 150 women admitted to hospital annually.
“Given one in every six women report having been subjected to family violence since the age of 15, hospitalisations are bound to be the tip of an iceberg,” Brain Injury Australia’s chief executive officer Nick Rushworth said.
In the United States, traumatic brain injuries are responsible for 30 per cent of all injury-related deaths, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. A recent study conducted with the partnership of the Sojourner Brain Program found that as many as 20 million women each year could receive a domestic violence-related traumatic brain injury.
A study conducted by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence that looked at women in three domestic violence shelters showed just how widespread of an issue traumatic brain injuries are among domestic violence survivors.
According to the study, 92 per cent of the women questioned were hit in the head by their partners more than once; 83 per cent were hit in the head and severely shaken; and eight per cent were hit in the head more than 20 times in the past year.
“In the aftermath of abuse, the consequences of brain injury may be confused with mental health or substance abuse problems and not understood as the outcome of repeated blows to the head or strangulation attempts depriving the victim of oxygen during a violent attack by a domestic partner,” wrote Dr Rolf Gainer, from the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute in New York, in a 2015 web article about domestic violence, brain injury and psychological trauma.
“In situations where the abuse is ongoing, the effects of repeated brain injury are cumulative and not unlike those experienced by a boxer or football player who has had multiple concussions.
“Health care professionals need training in recognising that the pattern of symptoms following domestic abuse may, in fact, be brain injury and learn to look for the real cause of problems.”
Mr Rushworth said there was no Australian research into the prevalence of brain injury amongst both victims and perpetrators of family violence.
Such research would help with funding for public awareness programs and treatment.
“The closest we have come is a royal commission report into family violence in Victoria published earlier this year,” he said. “Recommendation 871 calls for a state government-funded study into rates of brain injury amongst both victims and perpetrators.”
Last year, the Archdiocese of Brisbane introduced paid leave for domestic and family violence victims as part of a concerted community push to eradicate the scourge.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge said special leave would be offered to the archdiocese’s thousands of employees across its parishes and agencies including Centacare.
“For a long time domestic violence has been hidden. It happens behind closed doors,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Now that we’re seeing it as it really is we realise the scale of the problem we have in society.
“We decided we had to do whatever it takes – as a Church with all of our resources and energies – to do something about a real social malaise.
“The commitment is reflected in our offering of special leave for domestic and family violence victims.
“It’s a decision to give time to people who are suffering from domestic violence. It’s a way of us saying we understand and we want to help.”
The Victorian Catholic bishops also condemned family violence in a statement to the Catholic community issued late last year.
“Domestic violence is a crisis in Australia – each week a woman dies at the hands of her partner or ex-partner,” they said.
“It is estimated that one in four children experience the fear and distress of witnessing their mother being abused.
“Our goal must be a society where all people are safe in their home, families and close relationships; where violence and abuse are not acceptable; and where all relationships respect the equality and dignity of each person.
“This is part of the Gospel vision of love and respect.”