By Tad DiBiase
Recently, while on vacation, I picked up a copy of the USA Today. There was a fascinating article inside that made me say, as I often do, "Now why didn't I think of that?"
The article, found HERE, discusses a trend at the state level to increase penalties against defendants who choke their victims. Studies showed that choking is often used by domestic abusers and can be a prelude to murder.
Indeed, a 2008 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine notes that 43% of women who were murdered in domestic assaults and 45% of women who were victims of attempted murder had been choked in the past year by their male partners.
In most states, choking would in all likelihood be prosecuted as a misdemeanor with the penalties being, at most, less than one year in jail. As noted in the article, in Delaware more than half of all choking cases in one county were prosecuted as misdemeanors over a four month period. Thus, a proverbial slap on the wrist for most domestic abusers.
Thanks to the study in Delaware done by two state troopers, however, Delaware passed a new law increasing the penalty to five years for choking. (Getting judges to give out these sentences is a whole other story.) In my own experience as a domestic violence homicide prosecutor I often saw not only domestic abuse as a prelude to murder but specifically choking as well.
As with many domestic murders, it's more about power and control than a murderous instinct. Choking is deeply personal since it requires the victim and the abuser to be so close together and typically a man can overpower his female partner. Moreover, choking does not usually lead to death making it the perfect tool to control the victim yet let her live another day.
Often the only way to break the cycle of violence by abusers is if they get enough of a wakeup call before they kill that lets them know domestic abuse won't be tolerated. Having a state law that makes choking a felony is a good first step.