Jan. 17, 2022Print | PDF
A new study led by Halina (Lin) Haag, a PhD candidate in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work and the University of Toronto’s Acquired Brain Injury Research Lab, has found that the risk of brain injury resulting from intimate partner violence (IPV) has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Existing research suggests that more than 90 per cent of physical IPV altercations involve strangulation or hits to the head, face or neck. Haag’s study found that the pandemic has increased the rates and severity of IPV, while creating new barriers to service provision and uptake.
“Many of the ways in which our society has moved to protect itself from COVID-19 have put survivors at even higher risk of brain injuries that can have potentially critical implications for immediate safety and stability, as well as long-term mental and physical health,” says Haag, who interviewed women survivors of IPV and brain injury, along with health care and social service providers.
In an article she co-authored, published in a special issue of the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation dedicated to IPV and brain injury, Haag and colleagues write that service providers reported “a quiet period in the first months of lockdown, followed by a surge in calls, housing applications, and requests for peer support and counselling once communities began reopening.”
“Since social workers make up a substantial portion of frontline IPV support, I was very concerned that this significant injury was being overlooked and under-supported simply because no one was looking for it,” says Haag. “Little information about brain injury is commonly made available within the profession.”
As someone who lives with a brain injury herself, Haag has focused her research on ways to improve outcomes for others living with traumatic brain injuries. She has been collaborating on community-based research to develop new ways of identifying and supporting survivors. Haag is using tactics including an educational website and media interviews to share information about the intersections of IPV and brain injury with survivors and her colleagues.
“Frontline workers have also experienced significant difficulties during this time as they struggle to provide services to women in need,” says Haag. “Having to suddenly pivot to online services and address new barriers to uptake, such as internet access, has added significant complexity to an already high-stress and high-risk work environment. These difficulties have led many social workers to question the ethics of their service delivery and worry that the safety measures put in place during COVID-19 are potentially re-traumatizing to women seeking safety.”
Haag hopes her research leads to new service delivery methods that are flexible and adaptable to a variety of cultures, abilities and contexts, including rural and remote.
“My hope is that we shift away from treating IPV as an individual problem and create a national strategy to address this health-care crisis,” says Haag.
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