It is clearly a gender-based issue (Picture: Barry Lewis/InPictures via Getty Images)
That’s just the number of women who died as a result. Not the women who had it used against them to hurt, frighten, torment, control or silence them, without causing death.
It was the second most prevalent way in which women were killed in cases of homicide, and non-fatal strangulation is a method of violence that is widespread in cases of domestic abuse.
According to the US-based National Domestic Violence Hotline, the physical effects of strangulation include: difficulty breathing, seizures, miscarriage, incontinence, and brain damage – among many other symptoms.
There are also reported incidences of victims suffering from strokes, cardiac arrest and lasting psychological trauma.
When being strangled, victims may lose consciousness due to the brain being deprived of oxygen.
Without oxygen, the brain cells will slowly begin to die within minutes; irreversible brain death can occur in under 10.
Yet non-fatal strangulation is oftentimes charged as the minor offence of common assault due to their being a lack of observable injuries, according to the Centre of Women’s Justice.
In the UK, murder is punishable by a life sentence with a minimum term of 15 years for adult offenders. The difference between life and death for the victim can be a matter of seconds, yet, a common assault charge could see the perpetrator only facing six months in prison.
Non-fatal strangulation is a method of violence that is widespread in cases of domestic violence
Strangulation is a huge risk indicator. Research has found that a history of strangulation in domestic violence cases presents a seven-fold increase in the risk of homicide.
Just under 20% of female homicides in the year ending March 2019 were carried out by strangulation, compared with 3% of male homicides, according to the ONS.
It is clearly a gender-based issue, which is why so many women’s charities and organisations are fighting for non-fatal strangulation to be recognised as a specific crime.
Current law, or Section 21 of the Offences Against the Person Act (I say current, but this was an Act that passed in 1861) recognises choking or strangulation, but only if it is used in order to commit an ‘indictable offence’ – for example, if a perpetrator strangles a victim in order to rape, sexually assault or steal from them.
According to Jess Phillips MP, the Centre for Women’s Justice heard of a case in which a woman was raped and then strangled by her assailant. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) informed her that the Section 21 offence could have been used if he had strangled her before raping her, but not the other way around. How exactly does that amount to justice?
Suggestions for a change to the law were supported by some MPs earlier this year during parliamentary discussion over the Domestic Abuse Bill.
Jess Phillips, now Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding, argued the case for a new clause which would recognise non-fatal strangulation as a stand alone offence.
Tory MP Alex Chalk, in a speech that did acknowledge the desperate need to help, countered that provisions already exist in the law to protect victims, but that more needs to be done to utilise them.
He went on to explain that often, MPs are looking for what ‘shiny’ new legislation they can pass, rather than re-examining what is already in place.
In my mind, this is a complete minimisation of the issue at hand. We don’t want legislation that is shiny or exciting. We want legislation that works.
Sadly, that is not what we have at the minute.
The law is only as good as those who use it, and if cases of strangulation aren’t being treated with the severity and attention they deserve, then it is the responsibility of law makers to address it from the top down.
Which is why I have started my own petition, calling on the Government to re-address their stance on non-fatal strangulation. It is simply not enough to say that current law is sufficient, when it is clear that the law is not working.
We’ve been inundated with online petitions this year. I’m aware you may be fatigued by the thought of signing another one, but I plead with you to add your name to this.
It is a parliamentary petition, which if it gains 100,000 signatures, the Government is obliged to consider it for further parliamentary debate or a select committee inquiry.
They need to know just how many of us support a change to the law, or have been impacted by the effects of strangulation as part of domestic violence, and that we refuse to allow another victim to go without justice.
Petitions are one of the greatest democratic tools at our disposal. They give us a voice. We must keep fighting on behalf of those who no longer have one.
You can sign Nicola Thorp’s petition here.