“I thought I was going to die in front of my kids”.
“I was afraid for my life. I thought of getting my phone, but he wouldn’t let me. I thought I would die.
Have you ever had a near death experience? That dash across the road when you didn’t see the car coming and it missed you by a whisker? Even thinking about it now will send a shiver down the spine.
What if your near-death experience was at the hands of the person who says he loves you?
And, what if society and pop culture glamorized one of the most violent and terrorizing acts a person can experience in shows such as Sex/Life and in women’s magazines and porn? That a pop star, with a very public history of domestic violence, can think it acceptable (and presumably so do any choreographers, directors and producers of his performance) to hold a woman by the throat during a live performance, demonstrates the scale of the problem we are facing.
Non-fatal strangulation is when strangulation does not cause death but is extremely dangerous.
And when you delve further into the prevalence and impact of strangulation the statistics are a sobering read particularly for women who are overwhelmingly the victims.
A woman who has been subjected to non-fatal strangulation (NFS) in a relationship is estimated to be at 7 times the risk of femicide in the future. More immediate risks include injury to structures in the neck, such as the voice box, windpipe, and blood vessels.
Strangulation is thought to be the second most common cause of strokes in women who are younger than forty. Just as there is growing awareness of the long term consequences of traumatic brain injury, such as concussion, in sports players, we are slowly waking up to the impact of non-fatal strangulation, often repeated, to the brain of victims.
Up to 32% of women using domestic abuse services gave a history of strangulation.
1 in 11 adults undergoing a forensic medical examination after reporting rape, said that they had been strangled as part of the assault. This figure rose to 1 in 4 when the rapist was reported to be a partner or ex-partner.
Non-fatal strangulation will only result in visible injury in 50% of victims.
For perpetrators, this makes NFS an ideal method of controlling and terrorizing their victims.
This can be prevented, we as a society need to wake up to the impact of strangulation, often done repeatedly, to the brains of victims. We must go beyond focusing on what we think are the “obvious” signs such as bruising to the neck. Fatal strangulation where death ensues can occur and leave no external injury.
The weapons are readily available , usually only hands around the throat or arms employed for instance, to put a victim in a headlock. The level of control is rapid. It only takes 6.8 seconds, on average, to render someone unconscious. Over a third of victims said that they thought they were about to die and often felt unable to resist the attack. As the victim’s brain is starved of oxygen, she is left confused with gaps in her memory about what has just happened. Attackers use this terror and confusion to control their victims further. Even if a victim reports the attack to the police, an inability to give a clear chronological account of events, coupled with the absence of injury, often means that justice is evaded.
Often too, the defence used is that the “choking” was consensual. When a woman dies there have been multiple examples of a suspect saying he briefly choked her at her request, during “rough sex” Of course, the woman is unable to provide her version of events. Internet sites give widely inaccurate advice on how to choke safely. “Press to the sides of the windpipe” they advise, clearly never having looked closely at neck anatomy, as this is where the large blood vessels are located, pressure on which could rapidly lead to unconsciousness, stroke and death.
The issue of “consenting” strangulation requires further scrutiny. True consent requires the person making the decision to be fully informed of potential consequences, to be making the choice freely, not feeling coerced as might happen in a culture of “vanilla shaming”.
There is much work to be done.
Following the successful lobbying of the government, the law on strangulation was updated as part of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, making non-fatal strangulation a stand-alone offence. Bizarrely, prior to this, a person could only be convicted of strangulation if they did it in order to commit an indictable offence. The new law prevents perpetrators, who are overwhelmingly men, from using the rough sex defence as their ticket to evade justice.
The Institute for Addressing Strangulation has just been established, its aims include raising awareness about the dangers of strangulation and highlighting the signs and symptoms that a person who has experienced strangulation might experience. There is much work to do to address the lack of knowledge around the medical impact of strangulation. We will rebut the commonly held myths around strangulation, such as injury rates.
Ultimately, we need to learn from the experiences of those who have been non-fatally strangled. They have been silenced for too long. Now , belatedly, it’s time for us to hear their voices, take note, and see justice delivered. No doubt, their message will be; there is no safe way to strangle.