Last week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill that many of us may have thought was unneeded, or at least redundant. But this measure closed a loophole that had been overlooked for far too long.
It’s no surprise that HB 3371 – by State Rep. Rod Ford, R-Broken Arrow – passed 93-0 in blanket bipartisan fashion. What is a surprise, however, is that until this action, “strangulation” wasn’t necessarily considered a violent offense in this state when it comes to domestic assault cases.
“Strangulation,” in journalistic lexicon, is a word used to indicate the victim is deceased; if she survives, the act is generally referred to in reporting as “choking.” But in this case, “strangulation” is a technical term indicating that the assailant put his hands or perhaps a rope or other device (sometimes called a garrote) around the victim’s throat with the intent to cause “great bodily harm.” The victim, in this case, is an intimate partner or family member.
The bill didn’t just aim to add to the list of violent acts; it also increased the punishment for committing them. The current sentence is “not less than one year nor more than three years of imprisonment.” Now, the punitive measure will be punishment of “not less than one year nor more than ten years of imprisonment.” A subsequent offense will buy the attacker “not less three years nor more than 20 years’ imprisonment.
Ford pointed out the irony that led to his measure: While strangulation was considered a violent crime in general, the penalty for an attack upon the neck of a total stranger was more severe than an attack upon a loved one. This means that a drunken man who choked another fellow after a game of pool at a bar could do more time than a cretin who choked the life out of his wife.
Some Okies are likely to wonder if there’s a difference. There is, and here’s why: For so many years, men were allowed to “punish” their wives however they saw fit. Many of us who are in our 50s or older will remember a time when most legislators believed that a man couldn’t actually “rape” his wife. Few people think that way now, but in some areas of the law, the state is still having to play catch-up. That includes the recognition that men, too, are often victims of domestic violence, either from their wives or same-sex partners.
That’s especially important in this case, according to Ford, who said a person being strangled by a relative or domestic partner is 750 percent more likely to be killed later by that same assailant. And since Oklahoma is ranked 20th in the nation for domestic violence – another dismal statistic that prevents people and businesses from wanting to relocate here – addressing the problem now was imperative.
The wheels of change, like the wheels of justice, often grind slowly. Any act that threatens the life of a loved one should be deemed just as heinous as an act that harms a stranger. We are, indeed, our brothers’ keepers, and that means we have no right whatsoever to harm them.
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