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New law protects domestic violence victims

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On Nov. 11, 2010, a new law went into effect that enhanced law enforcement's ability to investigate and charge crimes associated with domestic violence. That law created three new crimes pertaining to the act of strangulation. Prior to this legislation, in New York state a person could have been strangled almost to the point of death and yet criminal charges may not have been applicable if there were no physical injuries.

Since these new laws went into effect, law enforcement has responded and has been charging abusers under the new strangulation law. Unfortunately when the media reports these arrests, they are often characterized as choking cases.

Choking occurs when a foreign object blocks someone's windpipe, like a piece of candy. Strangulation is a form of asphyxia (lack of oxygen), which occurs when the carotid arteries or jugular veins are blocked by pressure being applied to the neck or throat, or when the airway of the mouth or nose is blocked.

A victim who was strangled will frequently have either minimal or no visible signs of injury.

All too often, we tend to minimize the severity of strangulation. These cases must be taken seriously. A victim who may have no visible injuries at the time of the incident could die up to days or weeks after the incident due to the progressive and irreversible effects of the strangulation. In addition, strangulation is an increased risk factor for homicide, with some studies indicating that the odds of homicide are almost 10 times more likely if there was a prior attempt to strangle.

Strangulation, unfortunately, is a very common form of power and control that an abuser may exercise over a victim. In New York, a large percentage of domestic incidents or arrest reports indicate that the victim was choked. National studies have found that between 30 to 68 percent of women in abusive relationships are strangled during the course of the relationship. Therefore, it is critical that in every domestic violence case, law enforcement officers inquire as to whether the victim was strangled.

Strangulation is often one of the last abusive acts committed by a violent domestic partner before murder. This new law has clearly increased the awareness of many victims, service providers and criminal justice personnel about the potential lethality of strangulation. We believe that this is a positive step in enhancing victim safety, holding abusers accountable and trying to prevent domestic homicides in our communities.

Alan P. Mulkin


The writer is Canton chief of police and the letter is co-written by Ilene J. Burke, executive director, Renewal House, and Trenton M. Clark, facilitator, Office Accountability Group, Catholic Charities.

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