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Research partnership sheds light on intimate partner violence & brain injury

The University of British Columbia (Okanagan) and the Kelowna Women’s Shelter have partnered together on Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research (SOAR), a community-focused research project.

The purpose of SOAR is to explore the effects and incidences of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in cases of intimate partner violence (IPV).

The research is being led by Dr. Paul van Donkelaar, professor and concussion specialist, and Karen Mason, former executive director of the Kelowna Women’s Shelter.

SOAR started after Karen read an editorial in the LA Times .

“(It) suggested women in violent relationships were at high risk for traumatic brain injury. Yet at the time, virtually nobody was looking into it,” she explains.

“As the executive director of a women’s shelter, I had something of an “A ha!” moment. Of course women experiencing intimate partner violence were probably experiencing concussions given most intimate partner violence consists of blows to the face, head and neck. Yet as a sector we were not educated in brain injury, and we were not doing anything specific to train staff, nor support women staying in shelter who may also have been dealing with the repercussions of one or more concussions.”

“I forwarded the article to Paul, who until then had focused his brain injury research on athletes, and said something to the effect of “Forget football players. We need to study women!””

“It’s been almost three years since we began gathering data, and the project is going well. Our initial research indicates even more women survivors than we initially thought show signs of having experienced at least one, but in most cases, multiple brain injuries connected to intimate partner violence,” Paul says.

According to SOAR, approximately 230,000 Canadian women may suffer a violent physical attack at the hands of an intimate partner each year. As many as 92% of them report experiencing symptoms consistent with a traumatic brain injury.

In summer 2019, SOAR received a $1 million grant from the government of Canada to fund further research into what has been called an ‘invisible epidemic’ in Canada.

We’ve been fortunate to receive support from a handful of funders to get this project underway, but sustaining and expanding a multi-disciplinary, collaborative research initiative like this requires substantial resources, and those cost money. To receive $1 million  in support from the federal government through the department of Women and Gender Equality means a lot to our ability to continue this important work, and we’re so grateful,” says Paul.

“We hope the work we’re doing will increase awareness of this critical public health issue, not only among those who work in the areas of intimate partner violence and brain injury, but also in other areas of health care, social services, and the justice system, as well as in the general public,” says Karen.

“Our ultimate goal is to use the data we gather to inform the creation of training and tools for those who support women who’ve experienced intimate partner violence and traumatic brain injury, and more effective supports for the survivors themselves. ”

Since the start of the project, both Karen and Paul have noticed more and more attention being paid to the connection between IPV and brain injury.

“While TBI in IPV is still highly understudied, comparatively speaking, we’re definitely noticing an increase in momentum and interest in the topic, both in the anti-violence sector and other areas such as health care and law enforcement,” says Karen.

“There’s an increasing level of interest in creating and disseminating education and training to front line workers, and new research is being done to learn more about TBI in IPV, which is great to see.”

Karen and Paul will be presenting on their research project at the Brain Injury Canada 2020 National Conference on Friday, April 30th.

Learn more about SOAR on their website:

Brain Injury Canada 2020 National Conference

Our 2020 National Conference is on April 30 – May 1 2020 in Ottawa. Registration is for the even is now open!


New this year

Join us for pre-conference workshops and learn from dynamic speakers from across Canada on Wednesday, April 29 from 8:30am – 4pm.

For more information on the conference, view the list below:

Get to know Mike McNally

Our Stories of Acquired Brain Injury series is for brain injury survivors and caregivers to share their experiences with others.

In this edition of IMPACT, Mike McNally shares his story. Mike has had his brain injury since 2009, and throughout his recovery has made over $18,000 for the Brain Injury Society of Toronto.

Learn more about Mike

Online course helps parents manage concussions

The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) has released an updated course for parents.

The purpose of the course is to help parents support their children when they return to school and recreational activities after a concussion.

The world of concussion diagnosis and treatment is always changing, which is why this course, and other courses offered by CATT are closely monitored and updated when needed.

To register for the parents course free of charge, visit

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Brain Injury Canada would like to extend our sincere appreciate for the continued support of the McColl-Early Foundation
and Dr. Dan Andreae, Patron of Brain Injury Canada

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