It started as an argument, but the fight turned ugly. And physical. Before you knew what was happening, his hands were around your throat. You couldn’t breathe. You thought you were going to die.
It’s a story known only too well to victims of domestic violence in Clackamas County and throughout the state. Over half of all domestic violence victims report being strangled, which may mean applying pressure to the victim’s neck or throat, as is described here, covering the victim’s mouth or nose, or applying pressure to the victim’s chest. Basically, anything that inhibits breathing.
It’s a crime, but for many years, it has been only a misdemeanor except under rare circumstances, punishable by a maximum of a fine and one year’s jail time. Now, thanks to a new law that takes effect in January, any strangulation that occurs during domestic violence will be treated as a class C felony, carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
It’s a change Clackamas County leaders, lawmakers and domestic violence advocates say is long overdue.
“Domestic violence involving strangulation is always life-threatening, and when a victim survives, forever life-altering,” Clackamas County Commissioner Sonya Fischer says. “This important law change elevates strangulation to dangerous assault against those whose physical and emotional health are forever affected by someone they live with and once trusted.”
Strangulation can be lethal to the victim, with unconsciousness occurring within seconds and death within minutes. When a victim of strangulation survives, they experience lasting physical, emotional and psychological damages, explains Clackamas County’s expert on domestic violence and strangulation.
“We have a public health emergency — one in four women experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime,” says Sarah Van Dyke, Clackamas County’s Domestic Violence Systems Coordinator. “Data shows that many victims of a domestic violence homicide had experienced non-lethal strangulation within the year prior to their murder. We also know those who strangle are more likely to kill police officers.”
A Safe Place Family Justice Center in Clackamas County has been helping individuals and families by providing support and safety planning for anyone experiencing family violence, sexual violence, stalking, or abuse against older adults and people with disabilities. To learn more about A Safe Place, visit www.asafeplacefjc.org.
Photo by CMYKane.