New research finds that women who experience a brain injury (BI) resulting from intimate partner violence (IPV) may not only face physical, mental, and emotional consequences, but legal repercussions as well. This study is the first to examine how the legal system might exploit a brain injury diagnosis in a parenting dispute and how women are unfairly treated following an IPV-BI.

The study by UBC researchers, including Dr. Paul van Donkelaar – who collaborated on the CATT for Women Support Workers e-learning course – examines the impact of a BI diagnosis on how IPV survivors are treated in the legal system. According to the study, women who experience IPV-BI can be legally vulnerable following the injury, in that their brain injury can be disclosed in court without their consent, and they are likely to face heighted stigma as a result. In addition, the lack of standardized treatment for brain injury creates an uncertain recovery timeline, thus providing opposing counsel opportunity to raise cause for concern regarding parenting. For example, all lawyers interviewed in the study reported that they would expect counsel for an abuser to critically examine and weaponize a BI diagnosis to minimize a mother’s capacity to parent.

The researchers outline important mental health considerations following IPV-BI, and make several suggestions to improve IPV-BI research and screening: involve physicians as allies, ensure legal teams are trauma-informed, proactively assess the impact of BI on parenting capacity, and ensure transparency in the screening process regarding the potential legal implications of screening.

Read more in the news article by Castanet.

Read the journal publication in the Journal of Law and Biosciences.