Sojourner Center Launches First-of-its-Kind Effort to Study Link Between Domestic Violence and Traumatic Brain Injury

June 2, 2015

Sojourner BRAIN Program to develop innovative screening, deliver treatment and share best practices

PHOENIX – Sojourner Center, one of the largest and longest running domestic violence shelters in the United States, announced plans to develop the first world-class program dedicated to the analysis and treatment of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in women and children living with domestic violence, a largely unrecognized public health issue.

With its Phoenix-based partners The CACTIS Foundation and Conquering Concussions, LLC, the Sojourner BRAIN (Brain Recovery And Inter-professional Neuroscience) Program will serve as a center of excellence, leading the domestic violence field in developing a body of knowledge regarding the incidence, short- and long-term effects, and treatment of TBI in a domestic violence population. The strategic alignment catalyzes an inter-professional, multi-institutional team uniquely suited to address this issue. Other collaborating institutions include the University of Arizona College of Medicine –Phoenix and Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Much like professional football players and U.S. combat troops, women and children impacted by domestic violence are far more likely than the general public to have sustained a TBI. Of the published studies that do exist, the findings are telling. According to one survey of women in domestic violence shelters, an estimated 92 percent of women had been hit in the head by their partners, 83 percent had been both hit in the head and severely shaken, and nearly eight percent had been hit in the head over 20 times in the previous year1.

“Accounting for the incidence of TBI in victims of domestic violence could potentially result in 20 million women exhibiting signs and symptoms of TBI each year— a number that is 12 times greater than any published incidence of TBI in the general population,” said Hirsch Handmaker, M.D., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The CACTIS Foundation. “Additionally, it is estimated that in 50 percent of households where domestic violence occurs, a child is also at risk for TBI. The Sojourner BRAIN Program will bring to light this rarely reported public health epidemic and guide evidenced-based ‘best practices’ by producing effective, quantifiable outcomes.”

In addition to creating a meaningful database and assessing and treating TBI at Sojourner Center, the Sojourner BRAIN Program will inform and share standards of care, procedures, protocols and clinical practices with other domestic violence and social service providers, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, pediatricians and other professionals. Clinical internships and residency opportunities will further extend the impact of the collaborative beyond the walls of Sojourner Center.

“Despite the alarming statistics, domestic violence facilities and service providers are not, in large part, addressing the needs of women and children experiencing TBI. It is not standard practice to screen participants for TBI, and shelter staff are not trained to manage, intervene or treat TBI when they encounter it,” said Maria E. Garay, M.S.W., Ph.D., Sojourner Center Chief Executive Officer. “We want to evolve our understanding of TBI in domestic violence, so that we can provide a supportive environment that promotes healing and direct change with solutions that can end domestic violence not just here in Phoenix, but nationwide and globally.”

As part of its initial roll out, the Sojourner BRAIN Program is conducting a study of women in residence to assess the incidence of TBI in this population. Sojourner Center and its partners will use the study results to begin screening all participants for TBI during intake at the shelter’s main campus beginning in late 2015. In doing so, it will be the first domestic violence shelter to systematically screen its participants for TBI with domestic violence-specific tools. Robert Knechtel, M.D., J.D., Sojourner Center Chief Operating Officer will serve as the interim director of the Sojourner BRAIN Program.

“Most domestic violence research skims the surface of TBI and its associated problems,” said Knechtel. “Sojourner Center seeks to dig deeper, listen to our participants, and gather empirical data to inform hypotheses on how we can better assess and treat the specific and long-lasting trauma domestic violence imparts on women and children. We will do this not only through the program, but also through several focus areas aimed at strengthening direct services and translating evidence-based best practices to the wider public health and social services fields.”

The Sojourner BRAIN Program is a key strategic initiative supporting a robust Circle of Care approach launched in 2014 to strengthen Sojourner Center’s core programs and services to provide more effective treatment for women, families and unique populations who are affected by domestic violence. The long-term goal moves beyond shelter toward prevention and seeks to engage all sectors of society to bend, break, and end the cycle of abuse and domestic violence in society.

About Sojourner Center

Sojourner Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is one of the largest, longest running domestic violence shelters in the United States. Sojourner Center’s mission is to provide a continuum of multicultural services to individuals and families impacted by domestic violence in Arizona, while collaborating with the global community on education, research, and advocacy to end domestic violence. Sojourner Center serves nearly 9,000 women and children a year through its shelter, transitional housing and community outreach programs, child development center, healthcare clinic, and lay legal advocacy programs. Through its services to victims and survivors, education and prevention efforts aimed at youth and the community, advocacy, research and leadership, Sojourner Center leads the way to a world free from domestic violence.

About The CACTIS Foundation

CACTIS is an Arizona-based 501(c)(3) institution focused on advancing the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease. We accomplish this by supporting research-oriented preclinical and early phase clinical trials and continuing medical education (CME) programs for health care professionals. Our current programs are in sports medicine (especially concussions), oncology, informatics and molecular imaging, with a significant attention to addressing health care delivery disparities of underserved communities.

About Conquering Concussions, LLC

Conquering Concussions’ mission is to be the provider and partner of choice for “Best Practices” facilities for the innovative multidisciplinary assessment and management of concussion patients of all ages through relationships with leading health care providers. To achieve this mission, the organization was founded by, and is continually recruiting, recognized clinical leaders in concussion research and clinical practice to join the Conquering Concussions team.