Non-fatal strangulation set to become criminal offence in England and Wales after sustained campaigning from activists, victims and their families. Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland (RCTN) welcomes the Lord Chancellor’s announcement of this new stand-alone offence, which the evidence shows, often leads to murder.
Non-fatal strangulation was originally formulated by the Centre for Women’s Justice as a proposed amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill. The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, announced his hope to include it as a new offence to the police and sentencing bill next month.
Perpetrators could face up to seven years in prison, after years of significant campaigning challenging the lenient treatment of perpetrators of this terrifying crime by police and prosecutors. Strangulation is a common feature of sexual violence, intimate partner violence and domestic violence, and is a significant indicator in high risk domestic abuse cases that lead to murder. Those subjected to it are seven times likelier to be killed by their partner, and strangulation and asphyxiation are most common ways in which men kill women, second to stabbing.
Strangulation prevents oxygen from reaching the brain, causing intense pain, loss of vision and then unconsciousness within around 10 seconds, followed by a loss of control of bladder and bowels. Bangor University and North Wales Brain Injury Service evidenced that, while strangulation often left no visible injuries, victims could suffer symptoms long after the attack, including cardiac arrest, incontinence, miscarriage, paralysis, seizures, speech disorders, stroke, and other forms of long-term brain injury. This is a very serious act of violence.
Not being able to breathe is a terrifying experience. Many survivors describe how they truly believed they were going to die. Yet often perpetrators are only charged with common assault (equivalent to a slap) if charged at all.
We Can’t Consent to This, a campaign group which campaigned for the end of the so-called ‘rough sex’ defence, and numerous other women’s rights activists, victims and victim’s families have described this devastating violence as being minimised by the police under current legislation.
Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales called non-fatal strangulation a “domestic terror tactic”, as it is used as a form of control by signalling a warning to women that if that if they do not comply, they can be killed. She said that the change in the law was required to enable the police to tackle the “magnitude of the threat”.
Nogah Ofer, solicitor at CWJ, said: “It is time that as a society we stopped normalising and ignoring strangulation. We look forward to the police, prosecutors and medical professionals working together to address this with the seriousness it deserves, and hope that survivors of domestic abuse will have greater confidence to seek justice.”
We applaud the hard work carried out by the many activists, victims and their families that led to this crucial change the law that will see the punishment fit the crime.