Beyond Survival: Traumatic Brain Injury Is the Aspect of Domestic Violence We Need to Discuss

Davine Mason
Davine Mason
Photo: Christina Brown Fisher

There was a presence about him; he ruled the block. In 1994, Davine Manson was just 19 years old when she caught the attention of Shawn Jordan, at the time a known drug dealer. Manson and one of her friends at the now-shuttered Stowe Village housing project in Hartford, Conn., were struggling to carry groceries into their place when Jordan ordered a group of guys to pick up their bags.

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“I was like, who is this guy to command these other men?” Manson tells me. She was studying to become a medical assistant at the time but got swept up in Jordan’s world of cash, drugs, and violence. “I remember one night, he said he needed help with the money. We stayed up all night and counted sixty-thousand dollars,” she recalls.

Manson had three children with Jordan, but after nine years together she was ready to leave him. Nearly six months after the breakup, on June 19, 2004, Manson and a man she’d begun dating were startled awake in her home by Jordan.

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“I got up, and then, all I know is, I see him. And then I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ And I see a gun,” Manson remembers.

Court papers would later depict a man enraged. Shawn Jordan, “carrying a gun in one hand and a stick in the other,” carried out a malicious, savage beating of both Manson and her friend, repeatedly hitting her over the head with what she describes as a two-by-four wood plank. When she tried to escape, court papers detail, Jordan “caught her and pulled her back upstairs by the hair.” That’s when Manson says he threw her into a bathroom, where her head hit the shower wall. Then, Jordan turned his attention to her companion, dousing the man with bleach and sodomizing him with a jagged, broken mop handle.

The mother of six said she suffered a traumatic brain injury that night. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define traumatic brain injury (TBI) “as a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head.” Research suggests many women like Manson who experience intimate partner violence (IPV) have been shown to sustain traumatic brain injury from their abusers. It’s estimated one in three women and one in four men will suffer from physical or sexual violence, and the numbers are even higher in marginalized communities, particularly for women of color.

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Within weeks of the assault, Manson began suffering from anxiety attacks and noticed her memory wasn’t sharp. Routine tasks at her job as an administrative assistant seemed to take longer for her to complete. One day, Manson’s kids found her outside of her car, lying on the ground, suffering one of the countless seizures that would set off a cascade of health problems over the next several years.

In a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers paint a bleak picture: “nearly 75% of women with a history of IPV sustained at least one partner-related TBI and nearly 50% sustained repetitive TBIs.” Eve Valera, Ph.D., who led the study, says these victims have all but been forgotten in discussions about traumatic brain injury. “This is a topic that is extremely underappreciated and under-researched and people, including themselves, are even unaware of what’s going on,” she says.

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“It’s millions of women that are going unrecognized and undiagnosed. The number of military and the number of football players, I mean, this number dwarfs those numbers,” she adds.

On the day we meet, Manson, now 42, planned an early morning visit to her neurologist’s office in Hartford. No longer able to drive, she relies on one of her sons, Shawn Jordan, Jr., to shuttle her to appointments.

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“My son has become the dad of the house,” Manson says in the clinic’s waiting room, as she adjusts a black two-inch headband wrapped around her head, masking any sign of a scar.

Davine Mason, right, and son Shawn Jordan, Jr.
Davine Mason, right, and son Shawn Jordan, Jr.
Photo: Christina Brown Fisher
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Advocates of survivors say many victims do not get medical attention, largely due to the stigma associated with intimate partner violence. “Even if she does go to the emergency department, we put ice on her eye and say, ‘Here’s a domestic violence shelter you should call; have a good day,’ more or less,” says Jacquelyn Campbell, Ph.D., a national advocate and researcher whose findings on domestic violence and intimate partner violence have appeared in more than 200 publications.

Campbell says victims rarely realize vision problems, recurring headaches, difficulty concentrating, or memory loss are potential indicators of a traumatic brain injury.

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Akosoa McFadgion, PhD., a social worker and director of Howard University’s Interpersonal Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention Program, says that for African American women victims of intimate partner violence, so-called “black girl magic” keeps many of them from recognizing and getting treatment for brain injury.

She says that she too often hears the same thing from female students who are IPV survivors: “You’re not going to have me feel sorry for myself. We will get through this and even if I continue with the relationship, I’m going to be fine,” McFadgion recounts.

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“Yeah, I got a headache; yeah, I got irregular menstrual bleeding; yeah, I have memory loss, but I’m dealing with that. My menstrual cycle is irregular, but I’m stressed out, so I’m going to keep going,” McFadgion continues, before noting: “The desire to keep going is preventing women from getting the TBI services that they need.”

Davine Manson finally sought help after she forgot how to spell her name and struggled to recall the names of neighbors and relatives. A lifetime of milestones, like her children’s first day of school, have now all been lost.

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Davine Mason and her children
Davine Mason and her children
Photo: Christina Brown Fisher

Katherine Snedaker, founder of PINK Concussions, a nonprofit which raises awareness and provides access to educational resources surrounding female brain injury, says the isolation intimate partner violence victims experience is particularly harsh. Snedaker facilitates more than a dozen different, private, online brain injury-related Facebook groups, with an estimated 2,000 users; there’s little discussion about IPV.

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“The domestic violence part is in privacy, in a situation where both the victim and the perpetrator may want to keep the incident completely private and secret,” says Snedaker. “That may be part of their daily, weekly life. It may be routine that he hits her, and it’s seen as part of their relationship as opposed to getting racked by a ball, being hit in a [car] crash or something.”

As her appointment with the neurologist comes to an end, the doctor tells Manson she won’t need to see her again for six months. The prescription medication to help minimize the seizures appears to be working.

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Manson credits her church family and renewed faith in God as the reason behind her forgiveness of Shawn Jordan. A jury sentenced him to more than twenty years in prison. She says they keep in touch. Manson has partnered with an organization that helps families caught in the web of domestic violence and has become a motivational speaker with hopes she can help other people who’ve survived intimate partner violence.

“I’m supposed to be helping women and their children. My kids are going to be helping the children. I’m going to be helping the women to know [there are] ways to get up—and you can get up—and I’m a perfect example.”

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Illustration for article titled Beyond Survival: Traumatic Brain Injury Is the Aspect of Domestic Violence We Need to Discuss
Photo: Christina Brown Fisher

If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence, there is help available: contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. Spanish speakers are also available.

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Writer - U.S. Air Force Veteran

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DISCUSSION

theroo
Rooo sez BISH PLZ

Akosoa McFadgion, PhD., a social worker and director of Howard University’s Interpersonal Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention Program, says that for African American women victims of intimate partner violence, so-called “black girl magic” keeps many of them from recognizing and getting treatment for brain injury.

She says that she too often hears the same thing from female students who are IPV survivors: “You’re not going to have me feel sorry for myself. We will get through this and even if I continue with the relationship, I’m going to be fine,” McFadgion recounts.

I apologize for being late to say something over here, I’m being harassed by Bernie Bro Bots on that article about Uygur before Bernie w/drew his endorsement and made all their howling complaints moot.

Anyway.

Here’s the thing about this issue of the women, who come in to be treated, not wanting to admit they need help.

The way this is phrased, even as the head of the organization is describing what’s happening right in front of her – I’m not sure it’s something that can be solved, or even addressed, without addressing the culture, both from outside “the community” and within it, that almost mandates that WOC never be full people, never seek help for their suffering, in a culture that doesn’t even want to acknowledge that WOC can be hurt (and we know what legacy that is).

So they’re not going to do that, for fear even the people who are supposed to be helping them, treating them, are going to view them askance, as “less than” now that they’ve admitted vulnerability.

And that doesn’t even address the threats they might be getting if they’re still with that partner. Full disclosure – sensitive about this because one of my schoolmates died because her husband couldn’t stand being with someone so accomplished – after he’d pursued her because she was so accomplished –but she didn’t feel like she could let on that anything was wrong, everything had to be FINE FINE FINE … because the moment you don’t admit everything is 100% perfect you’re going to have a whole bunch of people in your face with the “Well what did YOU do?” and “It’s your fault; you shouldn’t have married him” gaslighting – that can come from somewhere as grotesquely public as the #RacistBirther FauxFLOTUS (that happened today as she tried to excuse her vile husband’s bullying of Greta Thunberg after she’s just railed at Professor Karlan for mentioning her son’s name, in total bad faith since Prof Karlan was just making a point)

or the lacerating betrayal of something like “What did you do to make him mad?” or the gaslighting of “You’re not really hurt” coming from inside your own nuclear family.

So … that was kind of a long-winded way of saying that if the professionals, the PhDs and LCSWs and other people trying to effectively help, are going to actually help – then there has to be support for the client against these cultural, structural issues until they’re corrected. Otherwise, if people – women – admit they need help, they’re going to feel as if they’re going to get assaulted all over again, and nobody with sense is going to do that (especially now when the culture is so damn hostile).

In order to be vulnerable enough to admit they need help, people have to feel safe.