Non-fatal strangulation is a form of asphyxia produced by continuous application of pressure to the throat. In the context of domestic abuse, it is a tool used by one person to threaten, frighten, and subjugate another person. It is an act of abusive power and control. Research shows that it is a high-risk marker for intimate partner femicide. Every year 50 000 women are killed by intimate partners or family members around the world.
What you’ll learn in this article:
- What is non-fatal strangulation?
- Common types of non-fatal strangulation
- What are the risks of non-fatal strangulation?
- Physical effects
- Psychological effects
- What is the purpose on non-fatal strangulation?
- How is non-fatal strangulation different from erotic asphyxiation?
- What to do if it’s happened to you
According to the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, “A woman who has suffered a nonfatal strangulation incident with her intimate partner is 750% more likely to be killed by the same perpetrator.”
What is non-fatal strangulation?
The term non-fatal strangulation is compression on the neck to seriously obstruct respiration and cause harm, but not death. It is synonymous with choking, stifling, and throttling. In the context of domestic abuse, it is distinguished as an act of gender-based violence commonly used by perpetrators of coercive control.
Common types of non-fatal strangulation
The three (3) main types of non-fatal asphyxiation are:
- Hanging when a person is suspended with a ligature around his or her neck, which constricts due to the gravitational pull of the person’s body weight.
- Ligature occurs when the pressure applied around the neck is with a ligature only.
- Manual occurs when pressure is applied to the neck with hands, arms, or legs.
In the context of domestic abuse, these acts of aggression occur by force and against the victim’s will. Perpetrators of non-fatal asphyxiation constrict the throat of the victim by:
- Using one or both hands
- Applying pressure with a forearm
- Applying pressure with a knee or foot
- Use of objects, such as a strap, plastic, rope, belt, scarf, cord, scarf, necklace, etc.
What are the risks of non-fatal strangulation?
Obstructing the upper airway can be lethal. Non-fatal asphyxiation can lead to a decrease of oxygen and cause brain damage or cardiac arrest within minutes of the attack.
Some of the physical effects of non-fatal asphyxiation are:
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Brain damage
- Hoarse voice
- Motor and speech disorders
- Bladder or bowel incontinence
- Memory loss
- Seeing dark spots
- Tunnel vision
- Memory loss
Some of the psychological effects of non-fatal asphyxiation are:
- Post-traumatic stress (PTSD)
What is the purpose of non-fatal strangulation?
Non-fatal asphyxiation is a non-consensual power and control tactic used by one person to express physical dominance over another. In the context of coercive control, it is an instrumental type of violence used to foster compliance and submission in the person targeted for the abuse.
How is non-fatal strangulation different from erotic asphyxiation?
What differentiates non-fatal strangulation from so-called erotic asphyxiation is context and consent.
While both non-fatal asphyxiation and so-called erotic asphyxiation are expressions of physical dominance, some of the key differences between them are:
Non-fatal strangulation is:
- Occurs in the context of abusive power and control.
- Intended to cause harm and induce fear.
Erotic asphyxiation is:
- Occurs in the context of mutual sexual pleasure.
- Is not intended to cause harm.
What to do if you’ve experienced non-fatal strangulation?
- Glass, Nancy & Laughon, Kathryn & Campbell, Jacquelyn & Block, Carolyn & Hanson, Ginger & Sharps, Phyllis & Taliaferro, Ellen. (2007). Non-fatal Strangulation is an Important Risk Factor for Homicide of Women. The Journal of emergency medicine. 35. 329-35. 10.1016/j.jemermed.2007.02.065.
- Ketchmark, Stavra (2020, January 8). ‘All Abusers Are Not Equal’: New IPV Research Reveals An Indictor of Deadly Abuse. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
- Thomas, K. A., Joshi, M., & Sorenson, S. B. (2014). “Do You Know What It Feels Like to Drown?”: Strangulation as Coercive Control in Intimate Relationships. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/spp_papers/168
- Wint, Camilla. (2018, March 23) Acute Upper Airway Obstruction. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
- International Association of Forensic Nurses. The Strangulation Toolkit. Retrieved March 1, 2021.