Unconsciousness within seconds, death within minutes. Strangulation is perhaps the ultimate display of violent power and control.
A woman who has been strangled [commonly known as “choked”] once by her partner is 7 times more likely to be killed by that partner (Strangulation Training Institute). Intimate partner violence too often leads to homicide and the weapons most commonly used are guns and strangulation.
A vast majority of domestic violence and sexual violence cases included the act of strangulation as a way to control and terrorize the victim.
Unfortunately, most cases of strangulation leave no visible evidence. While the damage can be severe – blocking oxygen from the brain for any amount of time is detrimental and potentially deadly – it is often overlooked because it is either internal or not properly looked for/documented.
Complicating proper documentation and treatment of strangulation, many signs and symptoms of strangulation are similar to or mirror other medical issues, including stroke or respiratory illness.
Ortner-Unity [University of Pennsylvania Law School], in their piece entitled Strangulation Assault in Domestic Violence Cases, defines strangulation as follows (full fact sheet linked above):
Strangulation is one of the most lethal forms of violence used by men against their female intimate partners. Strangulation is a form of asphyxia (lack of oxygen) in which blood vessels and air passages are closed as a result of external pressure on the neck.
Strangulation can induce the loss of consciousness within about 10 seconds and death within 4-5 minutes. Strangulation is often incorrectly referred to as ‘choking’ which involves internal blocking of the trachea (windpipe) by a foreign object like food.
There are three forms of strangulation: hanging, manual (e.g. using one hand, two hands, forearm, kneeling on the victim) and ligature (e.g. using telephone wire, electrical cord, show lace, piece of clothing).
Manual strangulation is the most common form of strangulation used in domestic violence cases.
The act of strangulation symbolizes an abuser’s power and control over the victim. The victim is completely overwhelmed by the abuser; she vigorously struggles for air, and is at the mercy of the abuser for her life. Some have asserted that there can be few more frightening experiences than feeling short of breath without any recourse.
A single traumatic experience of strangulation or the threat of it may instill so much fear that the victim can get trapped in a pattern of control by the abuser and made vulnerable to further abuse.
Dana Bettger, a member of the Fort Hood Family Advocacy Victim Advocate Program, wrote in her piece Strangulation: One of the Most Violence, Lethal Forms of Domestic Abuse (full article linked above):
Domestic abuse progresses through several stages that range from pre-battering violence (such as hitting or breaking objects, threats of violence and verbal abuse) to mild and moderate violence (which includes pushing, restraining, punching and holding down). When the level of domestic abuse becomes severe, violence may include the use or threat of a weapon, beating with objects, or victims are strangled by the offender.
The power and control perspective plays a significant role in domestic abuse. Power and control consists of a repetitive pattern in which the offender engages in controlling their spouses or intimate partner’s behavior through coercion, threats, isolation and violence; with the goal to intimidate and control the relationship.
Unfortunately, strangulation has become a common form of violence in domestic abuse situations and is one of the most lethal forms used by batterers.
For more resources – and a free online course – visit the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention.
For a domestic violence emergency check-list, click here.
For more information on strangulation and domestic violence, read:
If you or someone you know are in an abusive situation, search the Global Contacts for a helpline or crisis center near you. If you are in immediate danger, call emergency services.