Invited to speak by Rockingham County Attorney James Reams, Riviello reminded that the state of New Hampshire last year upgraded the crime of strangulation from a misdemeanor to a felony. Reams said he invited Riviello to educate local investigators and prosecutors because strangulation “is missed in investigations.”
“We always think we’re going to see something on their neck and you really don’t,” Riviello said. “A lot of people think there’s no mark, so there’s no injury and nothing happened.”
But without bearing a mark, he said, victims are rendered unconscious or dead. They’ve also miscarried, suffered injuries while falling unconscious, and been sexually and physically assaulted during non-lethal and lethal strangulations, he said.
A representative of the San Diego-based Strangulation Training Institute, Riviello said the institute studied hundreds of cases and concluded that 99 percent of strangulation perpetrators are men and in more than half the cases, there was no sign of injury.
In 35 percent of the cases where there was visible injury, he said, it was “too minor to photograph.” That, he said, meant prosecutors had difficult or impossible cases.
“If you can’t prove it, it didn’t happen,” he reminded.
Riviello said half the strangulation cases studied by the institute involved a child as a witness. And half of all children who witness domestic abuse, become batterers, said Riviello, before playing a 911 tape of a 6-year-old child reporting her mother being assaulted by her stepfather.
The wailing child was heard telling a dispatcher about her mother being beaten and as the call progresses, the sound of the girl’s mother screaming in the background stops.
“He strangled her,” said Riviello. “She was unconscious in the bedroom. Think about that little girl when you’re taking your reports.”
On a continuum of escalating crimes, beginning with slapping and ending with murder, Riviello said strangulation falls between assault with a weapon and homicide.
“Non-fatal strangulation is an independent predictor for homicide,” he said. “Victims of attempted strangulation are seven times more likely to be victims of homicide at the hands of that abuser.”
In spite of that, he said, victims, perpetrators, judges, juries, police officers and the public, all “minimize” the crime.
Riviello urged local police personnel to gather good evidence and write good reports, so prosecutors can get felony convictions and incarcerate perpetrators. He urged his local audience to talk to victims, and as a doctor might advise a patient to quit smoking, warn them to quit or die.
“That’s why we’re here,” he said. “This is a very important topic.”
Riviello provided the group with resources, including logs for collecting specific information from victims, to add to their police reports.
“What you hear here, I hope you’ll take with you,” he said. “We want to get the word out so everyone understands how serious this is.”