Alumna brings connection between domestic violence and traumatic brain injury to light in documentary

Maria Garay-Serratos

For USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work alumna María E. Garay-Serratos, MSW ’92, PhD ’03, a career in service has come full circle with a quest to uncover the connection between domestic violence, traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive and fatal brain disease associated with repeated sub-concussive brain injury. Her search for the reasons behind her own mother’s cognitive decline and ultimate death after 40 years of domestic abuse serves as the backdrop for the groundbreaking feature documentary This Hits Home, released in May 2023 and available to stream on Amazon Prime.

The film, conceived and developed by Garay-Serratos and director Sydney Scotia, shares the stories of domestic violence survivors from all walks of life, and includes interviews with prominent traumatic brain injury experts and domestic violence researchers, all uncovering a little-known public health epidemic.

Even as a child, Garay-Serratos made the connection between the “punch drunk syndrome” she saw in boxing matches her father watched and the symptoms she would see in her mother after he inflicted repeated blows to her head.  She chose to study social work, in part, to develop the tools to better understand and heal her family. When she began working directly with survivors of domestic violence a decade ago as president of an emergency shelter, she observed that they often presented with similar cognitive and behavioral symptoms to those she observed in her mother, but evaluating survivors for possible head trauma was not part of standard domestic violence treatment protocol. She decided to change that.

Read more about María’s story