Strangulation in domestic violence needs harsher penalties

Crime, Injury

Some law enforcement agencies report that as much as 20% of their emergency calls are the result of domestic violence. Generally, those calls involve heat-of-the-moment yelling, hitting, kicking, and other behaviors that are typically classified as misdemeanor charges.

A growing number of cases, however, now involve strangulation, which experts estimate is usually only included in about 10% of domestic violence situations. Despite the infrequency of these incidents, numerous state governments are ramping up investigations and prosecution protocols related to them. Why? Because research indicates strangulation is not just a serious form of physical assault. It’s also, quite often, a harbinger of deadly abuse.

Tragedy in Ohio highlights need for change

Melissa Jeltsen of the Huffington Post recently shed some light on a movement happening in Ohio to make non-fatal strangulation a felony. A petition has garnered the attention of the House, and Ohio may soon join more than 30 other states in delivering harsher consequences for offenders.

The movement was started by the family of Monica Weber-Jeter, a 36-year-old mother of five, who was brutally killed by her husband. About nine months before she was stabbed to death by her husband, he attacked and strangled her. He was charged with a misdemeanor, pled no contest, and spent just 11 days behind bars.

Scary statistics

Monica’s story is sadly representative of a national domestic violence epidemic. When a woman has been strangled by her husband or partner, she’s seven times more likely to be killed later. It has also been noted that 43% of women who are killed by a significant other are victims of a previous incident involving non-fatal strangulation. The number rises to 45% concerning attempted homicide.

Experts believe this is because strangulation is directly related to power and control. The perpetrator wants to send the victim the message that he has the power to kill. In many instances, the perpetrator is also testing himself to see if he is capable.

Victims of non-fatal strangulation have a higher rate of mental health issues after the attack, and later in life, they also have higher stroke rates than the general population. It’s worth noting that children are present in approximately 50% of domestic violence incidents, which means that they also need treatment after the event. This was the case with Monica Weber-Jeter, too, as two of her children witnessed the attack.

Moreover, the side-effects of strangulation are not always obvious, even though the event can cause the victim to die or become ill for quite some time afterward. Underlying injuries that may present only as difficulty in swallowing or speaking can prove fatal 36 hours later. Miscarriages have been known to follow days after the incident, and lung damage has been known to occur.

Training is key

Given how deeply serious they are, there are many issues with the way that strangulation cases are handled in the United States. For starters, somewhere between 80-90% of all victims of domestic violence recant their statements later. On average, a woman will leave her partner seven or eight times before she ends the relationship for good.

This means that it’s largely up to law enforcement agents to gather evidence well, and to make sure that victims are put in touch with the resources they need in order to move forward. Many agencies are spending additional time teaching their officers better photography and reporting techniques, as well as how to identify subtle signs and symptoms of strangulation.

The majority of states already classify non-fatal strangulation as a felony, and the remaining few that don’t, like Ohio, are likely to adjust legislation in the near future. As law enforcement agencies provide better training on how to handle the incidents, prosecution of cases will be streamlined, and will subsequently rely less and less on testimony. However, providing victims with resources after an incident may also go a long way to ensuring that fewer women will return to the relationship or recant their statements.

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