A West Australian research paper on Non–Fatal Strangulation (NFS) has inspired a campaign by the WA Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services (WCDFVS). Non-fatal strangulation in sexual assault: A study of clinical and assault characteristics highlighting the role of intimate partner violence* highlights that there may be no visible signs when it comes to non-fatal strangulation.

Kedy Kristel

A US review paper in 2014 found the use of strangulation was often not to kill a partner but to let the victim know the perpetrator could kill them easily.

  • The use of strangulation is often not to kill a partner but to let the victim know the perpetrator could kill them very easily.
  • Of women who experience Intimate Partner Violence, 10% experience near-fatal strangulation.
  • Any deliberate action which has restricted the victim’s breathing just for a few seconds is non-fatal strangulation.
  • Strangulation in 50% of victims does not leave visible injuries but still may cause brain damage or internal injuries that may reveal themselves later.
  • Strangulation is one of the strongest indicators for a significant increased risk of being killed by a violent partner.

The Women’s Council has carried out a voluntary data collection between January to June 2018 from Women’s Refuges and DFV Specialist Services in WA to increase our understanding of the prevalence of NFS.

All new DFV clients were asked:

  1. Has your partner in the last 12 months put his/her hand/s (or other item) around/across your neck and applied pressure to restrain you?
  2. Has your partner ever put his/her hand/s (or other item) around/across your neck and applied pressure to restrain you?

The data indicated that 284 women and six children had experienced NFS. Only 156 people had visible injuries, seven of the women were pregnant at the time and they were mothers to 585 children; 247 of these victims had experienced NFS in the last 12 months.

NFS is a gendered crime, almost always the victims are female and perpetrators are men.

Despite the high risk NFS indications can often be minimised or missed by police and medical staff particularly if there are no visible signs of injury. Victims may describe the NFS in language that often conceals and/or minimises the violence of the perpetrator’s actions.

Currently the Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA) makes no specific mention of strangulation, but refers to violence of any kind in the commission of other offences. This charge covers offences where a perpetrator has used strangulation to restrain a victim for the purpose of sexually assaulting her. The new Family Violence Restraining Order legislation does not mention NFS.

The Women’s Council is advocating for stand-alone legislation on this issue. There is specific NFS legislation in the UK, 30 states of the US (May 2012), New Zealand and Queensland. NSW and South Australia are currently considering specific legislation.

The benefits of standalone legislation include:

  • An accurate recording of an offender’s prior criminal history;
  • Better information for risk assessment for victims and their children;
  • A requirement for additional education and training of justice and health professionals and a focus on raising community awareness;
  • NFS is a greater risk to victims than stalking behaviour, for which there is specific legislation.

The WA Attorney-General has sought a report on the need for such legislation and appropriate penalties.

Prosecutor Gael Strack and Forensic and ED Physician Dr Bill Smock from the Institute on Strangulation Prevention in San Diego, in conjunction with the Red Rose Foundation (QLD) will hold a two-day NFS workshop in Perth on Monday and Tuesday, April 1 and 2, 2019.

Contact: kedykristal @ womenscouncil.com.au to register your interest.

ED: *Zilkens R, Phillips M, Kelly M, Mukhtar S, Semmens J, Smith D. (2016)