In the first community-based study of its kind, researchers from The Ohio State University and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network found that 81 per cent of women who have been abused at the hands of their partners have suffered a head injury and 83 per cent have been strangled.

Trauma such as repeated blows to the head and strangulation have lasting effects and should be recognised by professionals, from advocates and health care providers, to law enforcement, authors of the study say.

The research suggests that brain injury caused by blows to the head and by oxygen deprivation are likely to cause ongoing health issues for many domestic violence survivors, yet these ‘invisible’ injuries often go unrecognised and undiagnosed.

“One in three women in the United States has experienced intimate partner violence. What we found leads us to believe that many people are walking around with undiagnosed brain injury, and we have to address that,” said lead researcher Julianna Nemeth, an assistant professor of health behaviour and health promotion at Ohio State.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, included 49 survivors from Ohio and 62 staff and administrators from five agencies in the state.

The study is the first to establish that many survivors are likely to have experienced repeated head injury, as well as oxygen deprivation – a combination that could contribute to more-severe problems including memory loss, difficulty understanding, loss of motivation, nightmares, anxiety and trouble with vision and hearing, Nemeth said.

“Nobody really knows just what this combination of injuries could mean for these women,” she continued. “When we looked at our data, it was an ‘Oh my gosh’ moment. We have the information we need now to make sure that people recognise this as a major concern in caring for survivors.”

Almost half of the women in the study said they’d been hit in the head or had their head shoved into another object “too many times to remember.”

More than half were choked or strangled “a few times” and one in five said that happened “too many times to remember.”

In some cases, the survivors lived through both experiences multiple times.

While this is the first study to provide such detailed information from the field, previous research has acknowledged brain injury as a product of domestic violence.

In February 2019 a report by The Disabilities Trust in the UK, found that 64 per cent of female prisoners in HMP Drake Hall in Staffordshire had a history indicative of brain injury, and 62 per cent  of those involved in the study, had acquired their injury as a result of domestic violence.

The report looked at 100 women who had been helped by the Trust’s Brain Injury Linkworker service, which aimed provide support for rehabilitation and help prisoners to manage the transition between custody and the community.