By Sandy Hodson
In the past, domestic violence incidents in which the victim was choked rarely warranted more than a misdemeanor charge. Not anymore.
“Strangulation is trying to kill someone,” District Attorney Natalie Paine said. By definition then, the crime is aggravated assault — an assault likely to or does cause serious injury.
Paine said prosecutors have always been able to charge aggravated assault in a strangulation case, but they may have become more proactive since The Augusta Chronicle’s series about domestic violence in July.
Victims can lose consciousness in seconds and death can follow within minutes, according to the Alliance for Hope International which is dedicated to ending domestic violence. But the seriousness of strangulation has only recently been understood.
In Augusta, felony domestic violence battery cases jumped from 13 in 2018 to 47 in 2019, according to court records. Allegations of strangulation are included in many of the 2019 cases.
Studies have found victims of non-lethal strangulation are seven times more likely to become murder victims of the same partners, Dr. Gregory Postma, professor and vice chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Medical College of Georgia of Augusta University, said he learned recently.
Strangling can cause severe physical damage such as stroke, seizures, and cracked voice box, for example. Victims can develop anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder, Postma said.
″(PTSD) which makes obvious sense,” he said. It would be a horrific experience to lose consciousness to strangulation, he said.
Victims should be seen and evaluated, Postma said. While victims often don’t have obvious physical signs like finger-size bruises, a doctor can check for internal signs of strangulation injury by using a tiny camera to look into a patient’s throat and voice box, and doing a chest X-ray.
The Georgia Domestic Violence 2018 Fatality Review Project determined 23% of domestic violence murder victims had previously reported strangulation. But the number is believed to be underestimated because the source of the information was from previously reported abuse to law enforcement.
The Chronicle’s investigation of domestic violence found those arrested for the crime rarely spent any time behind bars.
But earlier this month, Royston E. Johnson was sentenced to three years in prison for aggravated assault domestic violence, the third time he had been charged with domestic violence. In the latest case, Johnson beat a woman with his fist and choked her.
In two cases in 2014, he was sentenced to a month in jail for punching the same victim in the face and knocking her to the ground with punches and then kicking her.
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By Sandy Hodson