Thursday, July 1, 2010

States Move Forwards on Making Strangulation a Crime

What do you mean? Strangulation isn’t already considered a crime?

So far only 29 states have passed legislation that classifies the act of strangulation as a specific crime and increases sentences for offenders who have non-fatally strangled a victim. This may soon be the case for Ohio and New York, 2 states that do not currently treat strangulation as a felony in and of itself, but rather place it in a general category of assault or domestic abuse.

Strangulation is used by abusers to assert control, power, and psychological terror over their victims. It can also easily lead to fatal results. Historically, one of the problems with prosecuting strangulation has been that in many cases there is no visible evidence of injury, and where physical evidence was lacking, strangulation was not treated as a serious offense. Yet 10% of violent deaths in the U.S. each year are due to strangulation, and the majority of victims are women.

Ohio lawmakers have recently moved to support legislation that makes strangulation a felony. Similarly, in New York, Democratic State Senator Eric Schneiderman has sponsored a bill entitled “The Strangulation Prevention Act 2010” which, when approved, will increase penalties for assaults that involve “impeding or impairing another person’s breathing or circulation.” This is great news: having a specific law against strangulation plays an important role in protecting victims of domestic violence.

Strangulation a warning sign for murder?

Research has demonstrated a link between assaults involving strangulation and fatal incidents of domestic violence. A 2008 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine analyzed 300 murders in 11 U.S. cities and showed that 43% of women who had been murdered in domestic assaults and 45% of attempted murder victims had been strangled in the previous year by their male partners.

Victims of strangulation are at higher risk of being murdered by their partners in the future. Passing legislation that specifically designates strangulation as a crime is an important step towards decreasing the number of fatalities associated with domestic assault. But in addition to making legislative changes, states need to sensitize law enforcement officials to recognize the severity of strangulation and investigate and act accordingly, especially in light of the fact that so often there are no visible injuries.

Click here to read the “Strangulation Prevention Act 2010” in its entirety or here for more information on strangulation. Go to for state-specific legal information on domestic violence and sexual assault.

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