By: Cecile O’Connor
PERTH, AUSTRALIA – “At the time you don’t know whether it’s going to be your last breath or not. You feel like you’re dying.”
‘Carol’ from Perth has survived about a dozen strangulations, including one that caused a blood clot in her neck.
She said it was a terrifying feeling which often left no visible marks.
Strangulation attacks that leave victims fearing they are about to die can lead to strokes and brain injury, but often result in perpetrators getting charged with the lowest level of assault, according to anti-domestic violence campaigners.
The Western Australian Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services, the peak body representing women’s refuges in WA, is joining a push to have specific laws introduced against non-fatal strangulation in line with legislation already in place in Queensland.
Fishing line, boots, and fear for children
The council has been gathering information from victims about strangulation and policy officer Kedy Kristal said some of the stories had been extremely alarming.
“Things like, ‘He stood on my throat with his steel cap boots’ and having their neck wrapped in fishing line,” Ms. Kristal said.
She said one woman wondered who was going to save her children, and another described being “allowed to come back to consciousness before being strangled again”.
Maire Kelly from Perth’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre said a lot of health professionals, police and patients were unaware of the risks, including potentially fatal blood clots.
Ms. Kristal said the council’s research showed 230 new refuge clients between January and May, including six children, reported having their neck compressed.
Of those, 117 said they had no visible injuries.
But the lack of visible injuries can lead to more minor assault charges than those involving broken bones.
Ms. Kristal said that at the moment, the WA Criminal Code only referred to strangulation when it was done in order to commit another offence, such as sexual assault.
WA Attorney-General John Quigley said the State Government was considering introducing a new offence of non-fatal strangulation that would apply specifically to family and domestic violence.
In a statement, he said the Department of Justice was “about to start consulting key stakeholders about the offence and possible penalties and will be providing recommendations to the State Government before the end of the year”.
University of Queensland law professor Heather Douglas has researched non-fatal strangulation and said creating new laws around domestic and family violence was always a matter of some debate.
But she said legislation such as that already introduced in Queensland and earmarked for introduction in South Australia could lead to more appropriate sentences.
“It’s very clear from all the studies that have been done that a woman who has been strangled is at a much greater risk of death or serious harm in the days and weeks following that initial strangulation event,” Professor Douglas said.
She said the charge could act as “a red flag” when it came to granting bail because evidence showed women who were strangled were much more likely to be killed in subsequent attacks.
“In some cases it’s appropriate to have a probation order — perhaps associated with a men’s behaviour change program, for example — that might be what’s needed in the particular circumstances,” Professor Douglas said.
“I don’t know that we’re necessarily looking for simply higher sentences, but more appropriate sentences, in any given case.
“Hopefully that ends up with medical people taking it more seriously.”
She said it was also important for domestic violence victims to know the risks long after the immediate attack was over.
Article Source: Choking, Non-Fatal Strangulation Offenses Already in Queensland the Focus of New Push for WA