Ohio lawmakers want strangulation to be a felony domestic violence crime

State Sens. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, and Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard, are pushing legislation to bump strangulation in domestic violence cases from a misdemeanor to a felony, arguing that it happens all too frequently and signals escalation of brutality.

“The act of strangulation is one of the best indicators of homicide in domestic violence cases. Passing this legislation will send a very important message to victims that we take this crime as seriously as the rest of the nation,” said Mary O’Doherty, director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, which represents 72 programs that assist 60,000 survivors each year.

Related: 81 people killed in Ohio in domestic violence cases last year

A 2017 study conducted by the Ohio Domestic Violence Network and Ohio State University researchers found 83% of domestic violence survivors reported that they had been strangled by their abusers and of those, one in five said it happened too many times to count.

Unlike a black eye or a broken nose, injuries caused by strangulation are often hidden. State Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, said like a concussion, strangulation can cause long-lasting injuries, including brain damage that isn’t necessarily immediately apparent.

Ohio is among a few states that do not have strangulation statutes embedded within domestic violence laws. Gael Strack, head of the Alliance for Hope and a national advocate for stronger strangulation laws, said to Ohio: “Hurry up. There are only two states left — Ohio and South Carolina. This is a homicide prevention measure.”

Senate Bill 146 would expand the offense of domestic violence to prohibit choking a family or household member and classify it as a third degree felony. Under the bill, strangulation of a partner or family member would be elevated to a second degree felony if the offender has a prior conviction for domestic violence or two or more other violent offenses.

Ohio senators passed a similar bill in November 2018 but the legislation stalled in the Ohio House.

“Part of the way we pass legislation eventually is by introducing and having the conversation over and over again, debunking where there are misunderstandings, and keeping pushing forward,” said Antonio. “So, that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

Related: Other agencies offer help to victims of domestic violence

Current law defines domestic violence as occurring between spouses, ex-spouses, family members, those living together or parents and those in dating relationships.

Strack said domestic violence strangulation laws elevate the crime and provide training for police and prosecutors on how to identify, document and prosecute it. While it isn’t always obvious, police should interview witnesses, check to see if the victim urinated or defecated — a sign she passed out, listen for a raspy voice and look for other signs, Strack said.

“At the heart of it it is about power and control and telling the victim I have the power to kill you,” she said.

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