Brain Damage, Intimate Partner Violence, and Sexual Assault

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Warning: this article discusses subjects that are sensitive. Seuxal abuse and intimate partner violence may be difficult for readers to consider. If you are in a situation where you feel unsafe please call 911.


It is a subject that is not often discussed but it is an important one to be aware of. Many victims of sexual violence are left with brain damage resulting from their assault. For those who are in relationships repeated assaults have compounding effects on the brain damage and eventually impair decision making on the part of the woman. This may explain some of the reason that abused women don’t leave relationships where abuse and sexual abuse is occurring.

Brain damage (TBI) is common in women survivors of intimate partner violence. This damage impacts not only their health, wellbeing, and safety, but can also have profound impacts on their future behaviour and decision making due to the damage. Brain Injury Canada reports that:

  • 25-80% of women who are affected by IPV (intimate partner violence) have experienced symptoms of TBI
  • 92% of IPV incidents involve blows to the head, and face, and strangulation.
  • Strangulation (depriving the brain of oxygen) is a cause of brain injury. It is one of the most dangerous forms of IPV increasing the risk of death following assaults.
  • Victims of strangulation can die weeks after the strangulation event due to underlying brain damage even if there are no visible signs of injury
  • 75% of women do not seek medical care for suspected brain injury due to fear, threats, stigma, impaired decision making, and embarrassment.
  • Friends and family often mistake brain injury symptoms for the emotional distress brought about by the abuse
  • Women with brain damage are far more likely to be incarcerated than the general population.

Healthcare practitioners warn the repeated assault and abuse results in structural brain changes that result in PTSD, and physical brain damage. These changes can cause chronic pain, decreased ability to experience positive emotions, and depression and substance abuse.

The long term prognosis for sexually abused women and women suffering IPV can be bleak if the abuse isn’t stopped and the appropriate therapeutic care given. Once the spiral of self medication, poor decision making, and repeated abuse begins, it is difficult to stop, and can effect the direction of the woman’s life.

If you or a loved one is experiencing or has experienced IPV or sexual assault please seek the care of healthcare professionals. Call 911 if you are able to, even after the fact. You deserve help and protection from violence, and a good future.