DMCBH researchers have received funding to pilot a virtual reality training tool to help police recognize signs and symptoms of brain injury from concussion and strangulation in intimate partner violence.

The project is led by Dr. Shelina Babul, UBC Vancouver Clinical Professor and BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit Associate Director, and Dr. Paul Van Donkelaar, UBC Okanagan Professor and co-founder of SOAR (Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research). The training tool will contain scenarios with possible head injury or strangulation events, enabling law enforcement to make more informed decisions about what to look for and when to seek medical support in a timely manner.

Intimate partner violence (IPV), also known as domestic violence, family violence, and gender-based violence, disproportionately affects women, including those who are Indigenous, Black, people of colour, and sexual and gender minorities. It is estimated 230,000 women in Canada suffer severe physical violence at the hands of a partner every year. Up to 92% of these women may also experience a brain injury.

As police officers are often first on the scene to cases of IPV, the goal of this tool is to equip them with the knowledge and awareness needed to support increased recognition of when a brain injury may have occurred. The tool will aim to get faster medical attention to survivors of violence, ultimately reducing health care inequities and improving health outcomes.

“Too often, brain injuries and head trauma go unrecognized and undiagnosed in situations of intimate partner violence,” said Dr. Babul. “We’re excited to use virtual reality to create realistic scenarios that will help law enforcement make decisions so that women get the care they need quickly.”

The tool will be evaluated in three RCMP jurisdictions in BC using pre- and post-training surveys and a review of IPV-related information found in police records.

“We want participants to come out of this knowing how prevalent brain injury from IPV is, able to recognize signs and symptoms, and prepared to get women the care they need,” says van Donkelaar. “Because this virtual reality tool will let police officers learn and practice new skills in an immersive, but lower-stress environment, we believe it will create higher confidence levels and a greater chance they’ll be able to apply what they learn on the job.”

Drs. Babul and Donkelaar will work with the Digital Lab at BC Children’s Hospital to develop the training tool. Funding will be provided through the UBC Health Innovation Funding Investment (HIFI) Awards which were created to promote cross-faculty and cross-campus research.

In the past, Drs. Babul and van Donkelaar collaborated on an e-learning course to help professionals working with women survivors of IPV recognize brain injury and learn tools to offer support. Access the Concussion Awareness Training Tool for Women’s Support Workers at

This story was originally published on the CATT website.