Non-fatal strangulation to be criminalized in England and Wales

Non-fatal strangulation to be criminalized in England and Wales | Leighann Blackwood

Non-fatal strangulation is slated to become a criminal offense in England and Wales, carrying a sentence of up to seven years in prison. The expansion of the UK’s cutting edge domestic abuse bill to include non-fatal strangulation will close a gaping legal loophole that has enabled perpetrators of intimate partner abuse and domestic homicide to escape justice – until now. 

The initiative to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill and criminalize non-fatal strangulation was led by the Center For Women’s Justice, who met with Justice Secretary and Lord High Chancellor Robert Buckland.

Nogah Ofer, a solicitor at the Centre for Women’s Justice, said, “It is time that as a society we stopped normalizing and ignoring [non-fatal] strangulation.

“The vast majority of these crimes are committed against women,” the Lord Chancellor told the BBC, “They are often a precursor to even more serious violence.”

What is non-fatal strangulation?

Non-fatal strangulation is compression on the neck to seriously obstruct respiration and cause harm, but not death. It is an antecedent to gender-based homicide. The Femicide Census reports that a woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK.

The practice is different from so-called erotic asphyxiation because it is:

  • Non-consensual.
  • Intended to cause harm and induce fear.
  • Occurs in the context of abusive power and control.

Why is non-fatal strangulation a gendered crime? 

Non-fatal strangulation affects 10 times as many women as men, making it a gendered form of intimate partner violence.

According to a 2019 report from the Office for National Statistics:

“Around one in six (17%) of female victims were killed by strangulation, asphyxiation, this was the second most common method of killing for female victims. In contrast, a much smaller proportion (3%) of male victims were killed in this way.”

What is femicide?

Femicide is a term that describes the killing of females by males because of their gender. Diana Russell coined the term in 1974. It is the principal cause of premature death for women globally.

Domestic Abuse in the UK in numbers

In 2019, some 2.4 million adults in the UK were targets of domestic abuse:

  • 1.6 million women
  • 786,000 men

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the incidence of domestic abuse has skyrocketed, creating a ‘pandemic within a pandemic’

“Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime perpetrated on victims and their families by those who should love and care for them,” says Victoria Atkins MP, Minister for Safeguarding.

The socio-economic cost of domestic abuse in England and Wales is estimated to be a staggering £66 billion

Women usually experience approximately 50 episodes of intimate partner violence before they report.

References

Photo by Leighann Blackwood

8 Facts About Non-Fatal Strangulation?

What is non-fatal strangulation? | Coercive Control

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:

  1. What is non-fatal strangulation?
  2. Common types of non-fatal strangulation
  3. What are the risks of non-fatal strangulation?
  4. Physical effects
  5. Psychological effects
  6. What is the purpose on non-fatal strangulation?
  7. How is non-fatal strangulation different from erotic asphyxiation?
  8. 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.

Physical effects

Some of the physical effects of non-fatal asphyxiation are:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Brain damage
  • Hoarse voice
  • Paralysis
  • Motor and speech disorders
  • Stroke
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence 
  • Dizziness
  • Memory loss
  • Tinnitus
  • Seeing dark spots
  • Tunnel vision
  • Memory loss

Psychological effects

Some of the psychological effects of non-fatal asphyxiation are:

  • Post-traumatic stress (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Suicidality
  • Dissociation
  • Compliance
  • Amnesia

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.

The aftereffects permeated the relationship such that strangulation need not be repeated for her to be compliant and submissive, thus creating a context of coercive control. 

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:

  • Non-consensual.
  • Occurs in the context of abusive power and control.
  • Intended to cause harm and induce fear.

Erotic asphyxiation is:

  • Consensual.
  • Occurs in the context of mutual sexual pleasure.
  • Is not intended to cause harm.

What to do if you’ve experienced non-fatal strangulation?

If you’ve experienced non-fatal asphyxiation, get help immediately! Support is available in the USA at The National Domestic Violence Hotline. and in the UK at The National Domestic Abuse Helpline.

References


Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse.
In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org.
In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.


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Ireland’s First Coercive Control Conviction

Ireland's first coercive control conviction

Ireland’s first coercive control conviction highlights the importance of active bystanders. Judge Elma Sheahan sentenced 52-year-old Daniel Kane to 10.5 years in prison for coercive control, intimidation, and repeated assaults on his 43-year-old ex-partner. Kane’s campaign of domestic abuse took place over twenty months between 2018 and 2020.

Coercive control is a pattern of acts used by one person to secure emotional, psychological, and financial dominance over another person. It is the most extreme form of domestic abuse in existence. It was criminalized in Ireland in 2018. 

Neighbors feared for victim’s life

Kane is the first person in Ireland to receive a coercive control conviction after a trial. Judge Sheahan found that his aggression was unprovoked and motivated by his contempt for the 43-year-old victim.

His daily alcohol-fueled attacks on his partner caused neighbors to  fear for her life. Consequently, the police were called to the premises on five different occasions.

One  neighbor recalls, “There were genuinely times I thought he was going to kill her — that’s how bad it was. The level of violence and aggression heard inside those walls was very distressing at times, at all hours of the day and night.

“And it wasn’t just normal rows. It was frightening what you would hear, between his aggression and her screams.  I called the gardai and reported it to the ­management company, that’s all you can really do.”

The extent of Kane’s control over his partner terrified her to such an extent that she initially refused to make a complaint leaving the police unable to intervene.

In 2019, emergency medicine consultant Dr. Niamh Collins contacted investigators and expressed fear of  a “real and substantial” threat to her life. Armed with medical evidence, police were able to charge Kane.

From victim to survivor

After Kane was charged, the victim felt safe and found the courage to tell her story. Moreover, she was able to provide a detailed victim impact statement about the intimate terrorism he inflicted on her. Yet he continued to threaten her from behind bars. Between March and July 2020, he told her he would send nude videos of her to her family and friends and publish them online if she didn’t withdraw her statement.

In a display of remarkable courage, she went ahead with the case, testifying to the court that she “might be dead or in a vegetative state” if not for the intervention of the  doctor and police. She encouraged other victim-survivors to reach out to services like Woman’s Aid and the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support.

Orla O’Connor, the chief executive of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Chief Superintendent Finbar Murphy at Blanchardstown Garda Station praised the survivor.

Chief Superintendent Murphy said, “This brave woman’s evidence in this investigation was vital.

“This case shows that any victim of domestic abuse shouldn’t suffer in silence — the abuser will convince them the [police] won’t listen but this is wrong.

“We will listen, we will investigate and the fault always lies with the aggressor. The Garda are skilled and experienced to deal with these types of investigations.”

“There are other tools at our disposal such as barring orders and we will continue to use those. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from — it’s against the law for anyone to behave in this appalling fashion. Everyone is entitled to dignity and respect.”

For more information visit Ireland’s National Police and Security Service.

Cruelty of the most vicious nature

The court found that Kane’s coercive and controlling behavior began in earnest once he had isolated his partner from her family and friends. 

Judge Sheahan said Kane showed disdain for the victim with totally unprovoked and unpredictable acts of “cruelty of the most vicious nature”, including:

  • Financial abuse
  • Punching
  • Burning her foot with a cigarette
  • Cutting her face and neck with a pizza slicer
  • Stomping on and fracturing her arm
  • Head-butting when she was recovering from nasal surgery, and
  • Strangling her, leaving bruises on her throat

He subjected her to humiliation by forcing her to sit naked on a sofa while he ranted verbal abuse at her. Because Kane took all of the victim’s money she could not escape.

A contributing factor to this lengthy coercive control conviction was Judge Sheahan’s disconcerting observation of Kane’s refusal to accept responsibility for the pain he caused – behavior that is typical of dark triad personalities high in narcissistic and anti-social traits.

In addition to his coercive control conviction, Kane was charged with intending to pervert justice for trying to intimate his ex-partner into withdrawing her statement. He pled guilty.

Domestic abuse occurs in the context of coercive control

Sarah Benson, chief executive of Women’s Aid, underscores the role coercive control plays in domestic abuse relationships. She describes the pattern of abuse as “tactics designed to isolate someone, erode their self-esteem and their sense of self-worth.”

Signs of coercive control include but are not limited to:

  • Isolation
  • Obstruction of employment
  • Monitoring time
  • Deprivation of basic needs
  • Monitoring communication
  • Taking control of daily life
  • Put-downs
  • Rules and regulations
  • Financial abuse
  • Threats
  • Criminal damage
  • Assault or rape

“It would be true to say that the vast majority of domestic violence and domestic abuse relationships occur in the context of coercive control.” said Ms. Benson, “Criminalizing coercive control is an incredibly important piece of legislation because that is how domestic violence and abuse manifests itself, in a pattern of behavior. To see that recognized and vindicated by a jury is excellent progress.”

A landmark coercive control case

Ireland’s first coercive control conviction demonstrates a departure  from the culture of silence in which domestic abuse thrives. It also shows  the vital role played by informed bystanders in preventing domestic abuse.

With the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, Ireland is now  the only country in Europe with definitive coercive control legislation.

“This is a landmark case in Ireland and we hope that it will encourage many other women living with the terrorizing pattern of coercive control to come forward and to know that they will be believed and understood,” Catríona Gleeson, a spokeswoman for Safe Ireland said, “This case also sends a strong message to abusive men that if they think that it is acceptable to control, isolate, intimidate or degrade a woman, as this man did on a prolonged basis, they will have to stop this behavior or they will be convicted of a very serious crime.”

A gendered crime

While holding space for male survivors and recognizing that it happens to some men, it is important to understand that coercive control is a gendered crime. In other words, the extreme levels of violence and domestic homicide associated are more likely to happen to women.

Forensic social worker Dr. Evan Stark of Rutgers University who first coined the term, explains, “coercive control is a strategic course of oppressive behavior designed to secure and expand gender-based privilege by depriving women of their rights and liberties and establishing a regime of domination in personal life.”

He characterizes coercive control as:

  • Rational, instrumental behavior and not a loss of control
  • Ongoing rather than episodic, and
  • It is based on multiple tactics i.e. violence, intimidation, degradation, isolation, and control.

Global Incidence of Domestic Homicide

The systemic nature of coercive control is such that every year 50 000 women are killed by intimate partners or family members.

Men20%
Women80%

Source: UNDOC Homicide Statistics. Page 18.

Resources


Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse. In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org. In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.


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