Strangulation: Investigating and Preventing Serious Danger to Life
Tuesday, October 23, 2007 1:15 PM

Strangulation continues to be a serious threat to the lives of women and children.  In fact, strangulation often foreshadows the escalation of violence and even homicidal intent.  Understanding, investigating, and preventing strangulation is complicated by the fact that legal standards are changing, investigations are often inadequate, and prevention is hampered by minimization of strangulation.  Strangulation accounts for ten percent of violent deaths in the United States according to a 2001 study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine.  From 1989 to 2005 in Minnesota, thirteen percent of all women murdered by an intimate partner were strangled to death and seventeen percent of all children murdered by a family member were strangled to death according to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women’s 2005 Special Femicide Report.


In her recent article  "'And Then He Choked Me":  Understanding and Investigating Strangulation," Allison Turkel, senior attorney and Chief of Training for the National District Attorneys Association, discusses the dangers associated with strangulation, investigating strangulation, the state of the law related to strangulation, and the role of prevention in enforcement and prosecution of strangulation.    


Strangulation leads to severe pain, unconsciousness, and even death.  Even so, victims often minimize being strangled and many victims of strangulation often report that the perpetrator “choked me.”  But, in fact, strangulation is defined as “intentionally impeding normal breathing or circulation of the blood by applying pressure on the throat or neck.”  Choking is defined as “aspiration of material, frequently food, into the airways with coughing.”  Strangulation is an intentional act by a perpetrator of violence, whereas choking is accidental and needs no outside actor.  Strangulation creates immediate and long-term health and safety risks that may not be immediately visible.


Investigating strangulation must take these factors into account and insist on immediate medical attention, questioning the victim about her subjective experience, watching for less visible physical indications of strangulation, and interviewing the suspect after talking with the victim and looking for defensive wounds that may be signs of the victim attempting to prevent the assailant from strangling her.  The more thorough the investigation, the more likely the prosecutor will be able to charge the assailant appropriately regardless of whether the state has a specific statute addressing strangulation. 


Finally, the public must be educated about strangulation, including how quickly strangulation leads to unconsciousness and death, and the importance of reporting incidents of strangulation immediately so that investigation and prosecution hold perpetrators responsible.


Compiled from:  "'And Then He Choked Me":  Understanding and Investigating Strangulation," American Prosecutors Research Institute Update, Volume 20, Number 8, 2007.