What leaves no visible injuries 50% of the time, but can cause permanent brain injury in seconds and death in minutes (sometimes one minute)? Strangulation (“choking.”) This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, ADZ Law attorneys Jessica Dayton and Mallika Kaur attended a training organized by CORA and run by the experts at the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention in San Diego to gain specialized knowledge on a tactic of abuse that we see in plenty of cases. And what’s clear to us: it probably occurs in plenty more DV cases, but survivors of strangulation often do not report it, at times do not even remember they were strangled.
Strangulation literally causes traumatic brain injury, and memories of this near-death sensation and experience can be complex, convoluted and even confusing. All survivors of intimate partner violence should be asked: Has Anyone Put Any Pressure to Your Neck at Any Time. (Hat tip: Gael Strack). A person may be strangled with hand/hands; with the use of the arm/s (“a chokehold); with an object like a scarf, necklace, belt; or may be suffocated, for example with a pillow. It is important to know that strangling someone technically requires very minimal strength: just about that of a firm adult handshake.
We were glad to see law enforcement in the room during our training, as we studied the neurobiology of trauma and the fact that when someone “passes out” due to strangulation, they are often very unlikely to be able to answer the question of whether they were ever rendered unconscious. Instead, we should ask “Do you know if you lost consciousness?” (Hat tip: Casey Gwinn). The asphyxia caused prevents the necessary flow of oxygen to the brain, and effects memories and sequential processing.
In the immediate and short terms, survivors may report pain; difficulty speaking; having an “asthma attack.” The documented long-terms effects of the constriction of air flow and/or blood flow that take place during strangulation include: seizures; thyroid problems; voice damage; uncomfortable gag responses in the usual course of eating.
Though the research on the lethality of strangulation has been highlighted in the domestic violence community more recently, it is now widely documented and urgently understood. Strangulation is now a felony under California law. Yet, given the absent or delayed visible injuries, it is often not charged correctly. Outside of the criminal system, it may not be mentioned at all in the civil and family law case, if the survivor of strangulation doesn’t remember or then does not realize the seriousness of what they endured: effectively, attempted murder.
If you, or anyone you know, has ever been strangled, it is essential to receive medical attention and care. For your legal case, it is important to document what happened. In the immediate aftermath, a “head to toe” forensic exam is ideal, and taking photographs over the course of a few days at least is advised. For your safety, it should be urgently noted that research shows that someone who has been strangled even once has an 800-1000% more likelihood of being killed by that strangler.
At ADZ Law, LLP, we remain committed to preventing lethal violence in our communities by using all the legal tools and training at our disposal.