First off, let’s stop calling it choking.
You choke accidentally on a peanut. When someone grabs you by the throat and forcefully squeezes, you are being strangled.
It’s a popular weapon of abusive partners. It’s incredibly effective.
In 15 seconds, it can render a woman unconscious. After 30 seconds, she will lose control of her bowels and bladder. Soon after, she’ll die.
If she survives the attack, she’ll sometimes emerge with a temporary red mark on her neck or tiny red spots around her face and in her eyes. But at least half the time, there will be no obvious signs of how close to death’s edge she’s been dragged.
Strangulation is an ideal weapon of control. It puts the fear of God into women, so they keep quiet, offer sex, clean the room, cook the meal…
“It’s him asserting, ‘I have your life in my hands,’” says Vivien Green, co-founder of the survivor’s support and advocacy non-profit WomenatthecentrE. “It’s planned and purposeful.”
Her organization interviewed 15 Ontario women who said they had been strangled by their intimate partners. It released the executive summary of its findings in a report called A Fresh Breath last week.
Most of the women said they had been strangled more than once. Most said they’d been strangled to the point of losing consciousness.
All said they feared for their lives.
Green and her colleague Nneka MacGregor said they hoped their report would launch a national conversation about strangulation in domestic assaults.
Their timing was impeccable.
The same week, criminal defence lawyer Marie Henein was inside an Old City Hall courtroom explaining why former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi could not be found guilty of choking actress Lucy DeCoutere.
In fact he had never been charged with such a thing.
What he had been charged with was “overcoming resistance to commission of offence” by choking, suffocating or strangling another person.
Henein called the charge very specific: “The choking is not an offence in and of itself. It’s choking to commit another offence.”
Plus, the victim must have resisted for the charge to stick. Henein argued DeCoutere testified she had not.
Does all of this seem strange to you too?
In Canada, you cannot be charged for straight-up strangling someone.
Instead, police can charge you with an array of things: assault, aggravated assault, assault causing bodily harm, sexual assault and in rare cases, attempted murder.
The most common charge, however, is overcoming resistance, which is not only harder to prove, but implies that strangulation in and of itself is not that bad.
As in: The offender had to strangle you because you wouldn’t quietly let him rob or rape you.
The women interviewed by Green and MacGregor reported voice changes, neck pain and difficulty breathing and swallowing after their incidents. More than half said they had experienced brain trauma, too, like concussions, headaches, memory loss and vision changes.
That’s what happens when someone cuts off oxygen to your brain.
There has been a push in the United States to address strangulation as a serious offence. To date, 38 states have passed strangulation laws.
Since then, domestic violence homicides have dropped, says Gael Strack, founder and chief executive officer of the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention. In one county in Arizona, they dropped by 30 per cent within years of the new law. At the same time, county police and nurses were specially trained to detect and document signs of strangulation, which can be elusive.
Studies show, Strack said, that a man who strangles his partner is on the road to murdering them.
“I call it the last warning shot a batterer gives before he kills her.”
Ten years ago, the Uniform Law Conference of Canada examined strangulation and determined the criminal code didn’t need an update to include a new strangulation law.
The WomenatthecentrE disagree, and I think they have a good point.
A new standalone law would recognize the gravity of strangulation.
“It would remove all the human discretion,” says MacGregor. “It will force the police and crowns to apply one law.”
SOME STATISTICS ON STRANGULATION
* 13 per cent of women killed by their partners in Ontario over the past decade were strangled, smothered or choked to death.
* 19 per cent of women who reported violence by a partner between 1999 and 2004 report being strangled.
* In one study of 300 strangulation cases, 50 per cent of victims showed no visible injuries.
* Of 89 cases involving choking or strangulation between 1990 and 2006 in Canada, 39 offenders were charged with section 246(a) of the criminal code “overcoming resistance to commission of offence” by choking, suffocating or strangling another person. Fourteen resulted in convictions.
— Sources: Domestic Violence Death Review Committee 2013-14 Annual Report; Report of the Criminal Section Working Group on Strangulation, Uniform Law Conference of Canada
To see the original article click here: It’s Time to Consider a Stronger Strangulation Law