Currently, our laws do not recognize that strangulation is a unique form of attack that merits its own criminal penalties. That is why we are sponsoring a bill that addresses a gap in the existing criminal laws. Our bill would establish the independent criminal offense of strangulation and suffocation. Violation of the law would be punishable by up to five years in prison, with a provision allowing stricter punishment when aggravating factors exist: the defendant inflicts serious bodily injury; the victim is pregnant; or there was an active restraining order in effect at the time of the offense.
Earlier this month, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary heard testimony on this bill, as well as on legislation to address the violation of restraining orders.
It takes tremendous resolve and strength to leave an abuser, come in to court and seek a restraining order. Penalties for violation of that order, however, are weak. The crime of violation of a restraining order is classified as a misdemeanor. In Middlesex County, there was a defendant who violated restraining orders 17 times. This defendant abused three different women over the course of two decades. These women came forward, seeking support and protection but prosecutors could not seek penalties commensurate with the crimes.
We have proposed a bill to address this serious public safety issue and hold repeat offenders accountable. By creating a subsequent offense penalty for repeat offenders, our legislation would ensure that an abuser who commits 17 restraining order violations could be treated more severely than an abuser who commits one violation. Police officers, probation officers and prosecutors will have additional tools to protect the public and, most importantly, victims of abuse will be safer.
The Judiciary Committee also heard testimony on bills relating to the imposition of cash bail, pretrial conditions and increased penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence. These proposals would further our goals of protecting victims.
Domestic violence impacts all communities. Abusers and victims cut across every income level, age, race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. The 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that in this country, more the one-third of all women and more than one-fourth of all men reported experiencing rape, physical abuse, and/or stalking in their lifetime.