A piece in today’s Times. The proposal, if implemented, will increase the maximum sentence for non-fatal strangulation from six months to six years. The inevitable consequence will be more false allegations of it, more innocent men in prison. You have to ask, under what circumstances might a man strangle his female partner, but not go on to kill her? Surely in a desperate bid to stop her attacking him?
The victims’ commissioner has lent her weight to a campaign to introduce a specific offence of throttling, survivors of which are seven times more likely to become the victim of a domestic abuse killing.
Women’s groups want the introduction of a crime of non-fatal strangulation so that domestic abusers face more punitive sentences.
Nearly one third of female homicides in the UK were a result of strangulation or suffocation in 2018, compared with 3 per cent of male homicides. Those accused of non-fatal attacks are often charged with common assault, which carries a maximum sentence of six months. In many cases, campaigners claim, they are not prosecuted at all.
The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) argues that strangulation is a gender-specific crime that must be recognised in the Domestic Abuse Bill, which has its second reading this week in the House of Lords.
The bill seeks to offer greater support to victims but does not address this issue. An amendment, put by Baroness Newlove, a Conservative peer and the former victims’ commissioner, is supported by her successor Vera Baird and would create an offence of strangulation or asphyxiation. The amendment is also supported by Nicole Jacobs, the first domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales.
According to the CWJ a specific offence would mean longer prison sentences for offenders and require police to treat such cases “with the gravity they deserve”. The proposed offence would have a maximum term of five years.
Domestic violence rose sharply during lockdown, and campaigners hope that increased awareness will galvanise support for their amendment.
American research has found that victims of non-fatal strangulation are seven times more likely than non-victims to be killed in domestic abuse.
In a joint statement, Dama Vera and Ms Jacobs said that non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation was an “utterly terrifying experience” which could cause significant long-term mental and physical trauma. They said that the law was failing victims and survivors. They added: “Yet non-fatal strangulation is currently significantly under-charged across the UK and there is no distinct offence. This is a systemic issue and the law as it stands is not fit for purpose. A specific offence with appropriate sanctions would make the harm and dangers of non-fatal strangulation — and the appropriate action by law enforcement — crystal clear.”
New Zealand, the United States and Australia have all introduced offences of non-fatal strangulation.
The New Zealand Law Commission, which backed the move, said that because strangulation characteristically left few marks or signs, even when it was life-threatening, it presented unique challenges for prosecution and contributed to a danger of it being underestimated, and the perpetrators not being held appropriately accountable.
Sandra Horley, the former chief executive of Refuge, said that in 2019 nearly 2,000 domestic abuse victims accessing the charity’s services said that their partners had attempted to strangle, choke, suffocate or drown them.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “Non-fatal strangulation is a serious crime which is already covered by existing laws such as common assault and attempted murder.”
The government says that it will keep this area of law under review and assess evidence in future which demonstrates the need for a new offence.
Attempted strangulation can fall under the offence of coercive or controlling behaviour in the Serious Crime Act 2015, where it is part of a series of acts amounting to such behaviour.
The Domestic Abuse Bill will create a statutory definition of domestic abuse that encompasses emotional, coercive or controlling, and economic abuse as well as physical violence.
Other measures include a statutory duty on local authorities to provide safe accommodation to victims and their children, an end to the “rough sex” defence when a woman is killed, more protection for victims and witnesses in court and recognition that children can be victims of abuse in their own right.
Rachel Williams was first throttled by her husband, Darren, when she was seven months pregnant with their first child together (Will Humphries writes).
During a trivial argument at home, she says that he grabbed her by the throat and lifted her off the floor — only releasing his grip when her lips turned blue. [J4MB: Because men routinely throttle their partners during trivial arguments.]
He did it several more times during the 18 years of their relationship, until Ms Williams decided to leave him and take her two children, Josh and Jack, with her.
“The last time I ended up on the floor and the noise of him strangling me woke my boys up and Jack came running down the stairs with a baseball bat and Josh silently rang 999. It was only that that stopped him,” she said. “He went on to slit his wrists in front of Jack. I felt like I had been run over by a bus. My head was throbbing and my throat was throbbing. For me that was the final straw that made me think enough was enough and that was when I made my decision to leave.”
Six weeks later he turned up at her hair salon in Newport with a sawn-off shotgun. During a struggle he shot her several times but failed to kill her. He ran off and hanged himself in the nearby woods. Her son Jack killed himself a month later.
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