The term intimate partner violence (IPV) describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former intimate partner or spouse. IPV is also known as domestic abuse or gender-based violence and is a major public health concern that destroys lives, devastates families, and affects communities around the world. One in three women will experience IPV in her lifetime. In Canada alone, it’s estimated 230,000 women between 20 and 54 will experience severe violence at the hands of an intimate partner every year.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an alteration in brain function caused by external forces, or a reduction in oxygen supply. A concussion is a form of TBI caused by a hard blow or jolt to the head, neck, or body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. In intimate partner violence (IPV), a concussion can happen from a variety of causes, including being punched, or hit with an object, violently shaken, pushed down stairs or thrown out of a moving vehicle. Brain injury can also happen in strangulation, which cuts off blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Nearly half of women survivors have been strangled. It’s a common cause of brain injury in IPV, and a strong indicator of future fatality.

The SOAR Project — Explore, Education, Empower

The SOAR Project (Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research) is a multi-disciplinary, community-engaged, research partnership between the University of British Columbia (UBC) – Okanagan and Kelowna Women’s Shelter in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. SOAR explores the incidence and effects of brain injury in women survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV).

The project uses psychosocial and lab-based assessments, and integrated knowledge translation to gather data, and develop and test education and training for those who work with survivors, as well as screening and supports for survivors themselves. The goal is to increase knowledge, awareness, and education, and ensure women who experience brain injury at the hands of a partner get the trauma-informed supports and services they need to move into healthy lives free of abuse.

The co-founders of the SOAR project, Karen Mason and Paul van Donkelaar, appeared on People First Radio to speak about their research. Listen and/or download the audio below.

karen mason_paul van donkelaar_ipv_tbi_soar project

Dr. Paul van Donkelaar is co-founder and principal investigator for SOAR. He is also a professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences and Associate Vice Principal, Research at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna, B.C., Canada. His program of research focusses on the basic mechanisms of sensorimotor control and the cerebrovascular, neurocognitive, and sensorimotor aspects of brain dysfunction resulting from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Since 2016, he has started to focus his research on better understanding brain dysfunction in women who have experienced intimate partner violence-related TBI in collaboration with Kelowna Women’s Shelter through the SOAR project.

Karen Mason is co-founder and director of community practice for SOAR, and former executive director of Kelowna Women’ Shelter in Kelowna, B.C., Canada. A seasoned and passionate non-profit leader, communicator, and community collaborator, Karen brings 30+ years of career experience to her work advocating for survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). Kelowna Women’s Shelter provides emergency and transitional housing, second stage housing, counselling support, advocacy, and prevention education to women and children who’ve experienced IPV.  In collaboration with the University of British Columbia – Okanagan, the Shelter has been engaged in the community-based SOAR research project since it began in 2016.