The Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC and Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs are calling on the Government to introduce a specific offence of non-fatal strangulation as part of the Domestic Abuse Bill
The two Commissioners have issued the following joint statement:
We are disappointed that this has not been introduced into the Bill at the report stage and call on the Minister to consider this more closely.
Non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation is an utterly terrifying experience and can cause significant long-term mental and physical trauma to victims and survivors.
It is a common tool used by abusers to show their victims that they can kill them if they wanted to, in order to instil fear and compliance in their pursuit of absolute control.
Victims can lose consciousness in 10 to 15 seconds and lack of oxygen to the brain results in mild brain damage.
It can also cause long-term damage including fractured trachea, neurological injuries, tinnitus, ear bleeding, internal bleeding, dizziness, loss of memory and even stroke months later as a result of blood clots.
And that is not withstanding the significant mental and emotional trauma of such an experience, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Not only does non-fatal strangulation cause untold harm in its own right, but research shows that it is a clear indicator of extreme levels of coercive control and violence, with those subject to strangulation having an eight-fold increase in the risk of death.
Despite this, the law is failing victims and survivors and the penalties associated with strangulation do not reflect the significant harm inflicted.
There is currently no specific offence of non-fatal strangulation, and we see significant under-charging by police and prosecutors, who often fail to understand and appreciate the severity of this crime.
Instead, police often charge perpetrators with Common Assault rather than the more appropriate Actual Bodily Harm.
This results in inadequate risk assessment for victims and survivors and perpetrators evading real justice.
In many cases perpetrators avoid prosecution altogether when offences come to light six months after they have taken place (the time limit for charging common assault).
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.
There is precedent here; the Coalition Government rightly sought to introduce a specific offence for behaviour known as ‘revenge porn’ in order to underline the seriousness of the offence and address chronic under-charging.
We can also learn from international best practice: New Zealand, the US and Australia have all introduced specific offences for non-fatal strangulation and have found that doing so has been a more effective criminal sanction and helped to increase awareness of the issue.
Therefore, we strongly call on the Government to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to introduce a freestanding offence of strangulation or asphyxiation.
This would require the police and criminal justice agencies to treat cases with the gravity that they deserve and sends a strong signal to the wider public about the severity of this terrifying crime.
As it stands, the law is inadequate, and we must take the opportunity afforded by the Domestic Abuse Bill to bring perpetrators to justice and keep victims and survivors safe.
Dame Vera Baird QC
Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales
Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales