Domestic abusers often use strangulation to assert power and control, and to indicate their willingness to cut off a victim’s breathing, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini said at a press conference on Thursday, October 11, that marked October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
He also announced a new pilot program to enhance law enforcement’s ability to prosecute instances of domestic violence that involve strangulation.
“What the abuser is doing is sending a clear message—a clear threat—that he or she is capable of murdering the victim, and research indicates that abusers who strangle their victims are, in fact, more likely to ultimately commit murder,” Mr. Sini said. “If we can successfully prosecute a strangulation case and put that violent abuser behind bars, we could very well be preventing a homicide.”
According to the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, recent studies showed that 70 percent of strangled women believed they were going to die, and loss of consciousness can occur within five to 10 seconds of strangulation, and death within minutes.
“The attacker is sending an extreme message that ‘I can kill you if I want to,’” said Pamela Greinke, director of advocacy of The Retreat, an East Hampton-based shelter and support agency for victims of abuse.
“At least 50 percent of strangulation cases do no leave any visible signs,” she added. “We refer them to immediate medical attention,” she added, noting that cutting off someone’s breathing can cause long-term effects such as brain damage.
According to The Retreat’s community outreach coordinator, Vanessa Petruccelli, strangulation,although being a common and life-threatening domestic violence issue worldwide and on the East End, often goes undetected due to victims not displaying visible signs.
Strangulation became illegal in New York State in November 2010 under Penal Law Article 121, according to Mr. Sini. Before 2010, Ms. Greinke said, it was treated as something comparable to hair-pulling or hitting. Now, the law includes three criminal statutes classifying criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation as a Class A misdemeanor, strangulation in the second degree as a Class D felony, and strangulation in the first degree as a Class C felony. Penalties in New York State are more severe if there is evidence of a loss of consciousness by a victim.
Death can occur days or weeks after the attack due to carotid artery dissection and respiratory complications such as pneumonia, and the risk of blood clots traveling to the brain.
The new county program includes enhanced training for Suffolk County Police officers and domestic violence service providers in recognizing and investigating instances of strangulation. In addition, the program will include the use of highly-trained forensic nurse examiners to conduct clinical assessments of strangulation victims when the crimes occur.
As part of the pilot program, the County Police Department recently incorporated an online video on strangulation into its training requirements for sworn officers. The video explains the physical dangers of strangulation, demonstrates the signs and symptoms of strangulation, and identifies the actions that law enforcement should take to help a victim.
“Domestic violence is an issue that does not discriminate—it affects men and women of all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said at the press conference on Thursday.
For further information about The Retreat, call 631-329-4398 or visit www.theretreatinc.org.

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