First National Indian Country training on investigation and prosecution of non-fatal strangulation offenses

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Department of Justice’s National Indian Country Training Initiative (NICTI) partnered with the National Strangulation Training Institute to deliver the first-ever national Indian Country training on the investigation and prosecution of non-fatal strangulation and suffocation offenses.  The training, held from Jan. 29 – Feb. 1, 2013, drew attendance from over 50 federal and tribal participants, representing 17 tribes, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Students included prosecutors, law enforcement, advocates, paramedics and sexual assault nurse examiners.
The training, held at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, S.C., provided an in-depth examination of the mechanics of strangulation and suffocation from a medical, legal and law enforcement perspective. In addition to substantive information on strangulation and suffocation, students received information on how to effectively train others in their community about the investigation and prosecution of strangulation crimes and how to serve as an expert witness on the issue in court.

 “Strangulation has been identified as one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence and sexual assault. Expert training in this area is critical as external signs of strangulation are absent in over half of all victims. Death can occur without any external marks at all,” said Leslie A. Hagen, National Indian Country Training Coordinator.
“If we can prevent even one homicide by early prosecution of an abuser when he strangles his partner and she survives, all our work will be worth it,” said Gael Strack, the Project Director of the National Strangulation Training Institute and CEO of the National Family Justice Center Alliance.

“When men choke women, those men might as well be raising their right hand and saying ‘I am a killer’ to everyone that is paying attention,” said Casey Gwinn, President of the National Family Justice Center Alliance and faculty at this week’s training. “After 20 years of research and practice, it is clear that men who choke women are the same men who are likely to later kill those women, kill children, and kill police officers.” 
Facts about strangulation:

  • Strangulation is more common than professionals have realized. Recent studies have now shown that 34 percent of abused pregnant women report being “choked” (Bullock, 2006); 47 percent of female domestic violence victims reported being “choked” (Block, 2000) and most experts believe the rate is higher given the minimization by victims and the lack of education. 
  • Victims of multiple strangulation “who had experienced more than one strangulation attack, on separate occasions, by the same abuser, reported neck and throat injuries, neurologic disorders and psychological disorders with increased frequency”. (Smith,  2001)
  • Almost half of all domestic violence homicide victims had experienced at least one episode of non-fatal strangulation prior to a lethal violent incident (Glass, Sage, 2008).  Victims of prior non-fatal strangulation are 800 percent more likely of later becoming a homicide victim. (Glass, et al, 2008).
  • Strangulation is more serious than professionals have realized. Loss of consciousness can occur within 5 to 10 seconds and death within 4 to 5 minutes. (Watch, 2009; Hawley, McClane, 2001). The seriousness of the internal injuries may take a few hours to be appreciated and delayed death can occur days later. (Hawley, McClane, 2001).

Because most strangulation victims do not have visible injuries, strangulation cases may be minimized or trivialized by law enforcement, medical and mental health professionals.