Overview of the Issue
It is critical to identify strangulation assaults as they can quickly escalate, potentially causing brain injury and death. Routinely ask every abuse victim, “Did the abuser strangle you?” and “Did you lose consciousness at any point?” If the victim says, “No,” then ask, “Did he put his hands around your neck and squeeze?” If the victim indicates that she was strangled (many victims will say they were “choked” instead), then DOCUMENT THE DETAILS and get her emergency medical treatment immediately.
It is critical to ask the victim:
What did the abuser use to strangle you? An object, cord, plastic bag, hands, etc.
- For how long did the strangulation occur?
- Did the victim black out or lose consciousness?
- How often does the abuser use strangulation as a means of abuse?
Some facts about Strangulation:
- Many victims will report that they have been “choked” when they are actually the victims of strangulation.
- Some victims will say they were not choked or strangled, but with further questioning will acknowledge that the suspect put an object or the suspect’s hands around the victim’s neck.
- Lack of oxygen during strangulation can lead to underlying brain damage that may not present itself in victims and unborn children for up to several weeks, at which point death may still occur from the strangulation. Therefore, always assess victim(s) for strangulation injuries that may or may not be observable.
- In the case of allegations of strangulation, the absence of external
injuries is not uncommon and the likelihood of serious internal
injuries that could result in death absent external injuries is possible.
** It is CRITICAL that you examine any suspected victim of domestic violence for bruising behind the victim’s ears and/or signs of petechiae, which will present as tiny red “pin point dots” in the whites of the victim’s eyes resulting from broken blood vessels and internal bleeding. Both types of bruising are classic strangulation injuries and should be photographed and documented clearly on the DIR and followed up with immediate medical attention.
Law enforcement and other professionals can download the brochure, Domestic Violence and Strangulation: A Guide for Victims and Professionals