By: Lyndsay Winkley
VIDEO: Strangulation PSA
SAN DIEGO, CA – Despite the terror she felt when her husband wrapped his hands around her throat, Mariel Cota didn’t think to mention being strangled when she called police.
It took years for her to realize she had survived one of the deadliest forms of domestic violence.
Officers, at the time, didn’t think to ask about it. Now, a new countywide protocol will ensure police, and other trauma care providers, are better trained to detect, document and respond to cases of strangulation.
“It will help officers identify and document what has happened, how it has happened and what evidence they need to collect… to save lives and hold offenders accountable,” said San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.
Zimmerman and a number of county leaders announced the protocol at a press conference at the District Attorney’s Office Thursday.
Experts say strangulation is a particularly dangerous form of domestic violence. Victims can fall unconscious in seconds and be dead in minutes.
In San Diego County, 15 percent of domestic-violence homicides between 2008 and 2015 were strangulation cases. One of the five domestic-violence homicides in the city of San Diego last year was a strangulation case.
If victims survive, they can be left with serious, long-term injuries like memory loss, traumatic brain injury and stroke. They are also nearly eight times more likely to end up victims of homicide than victims who suffered another form of abuse, according to a study done by the San Diego City Attorney’s Office in the 1990s.
“We need to identify these people and do something about it if we’re going to prevent that homicide,” said San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Tracy Prior.
While it can be highly lethal, strangulation often leaves behind few physical marks. To help police better detect and document cases, officers will now be required to ask victims of domestic violence if they were strangled. If so, an additional two-page questionnaire will help to detail what happened.
Officers are also being encouraged to continue cataloging evidence in follow-up interviews, since bruises or symptoms may not appear for days.
City Attorney Mara Elliot said proof of strangulation can add months to a jail term, or even years if it is determined to be a felony.
“It makes it easier for juries to convict, and it allows prosecutors to seek longer sentences for this calculated offense,” Elliot said. “The longer the abuser is behind bars, the longer victims have to move out, to get counseling, to acclimate to a life without violence and to move on with their lives.”
The protocol also calls for the development of a new training video for dispatchers and officers, which will be rolled out in April. A public service announcement to help educate domestic violence survivors about strangulation has also been developed.
Although much of the training being developed is designed for first responders, more than 60 community partners and non-profits, including medical professionals, helped develop the protocol over a a six-month period.
Mariel Cota knows how life-changing assistance from law enforcement can be.
Her husband began abusing her in 2005. Three years later, during an argument at their home in Descanso, Cota decided she’d had enough. She told him she was going to call police, and he snapped. In a flash, his hands were around her neck.
“I will never forget the look in his eyes,” she said Thursday. “He didn’t look like my husband at all.”
Although she didn’t realize until later she had been a victim of strangulation, the help she received from officers that night eventually gave her the courage to take her children and leave her abuser.
“Officers and deputies have a window of opportunity to help victims understand how dangerous strangulation can be and to connect them with help,” Cota said.
Source Article: New training to combat deadly domestic violence cases