Guest columnist Mary A. Kociela: The pandemic and domestic violence

Published: 6/23/2020 11:27:11 AM

In the current pandemic, when victims of abuse are more isolated than ever, we are seeing a rise in more serious cases.

Although any case of domestic violence is serious, and potentially lethal, there are some behaviors that can indicate a higher risk. One of them is strangulation. According to the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, a victim who is strangled by their intimate partner is seven times more likely to be killed by that partner.

Nonfatal strangulation is the act of choking or strangling an intimate partner, not with the intent to kill them, but rather to send the message “I CAN Kill You.” It’s a terrifying means of abuse that happens with much greater frequency than you may think. In fact, in just three months since the start of social isolation practices in mid-March, there have been 18 strangulations reported to our office, and those are just the ones we know about. The number is surely much higher.

In some cases, victims experience strangulation over and over at the hands of their partner, rendering them afraid for their life and afraid to call for help.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and has been the victim of choking/strangulation, here’s some information we want you to know.

■Strangulation is one of several factors known to increase risk of lethality in an intimate partner relationship. Other abuser high-risk behaviors/factors include threats to kill, access to weapons, particularly a gun, threats of suicide, stalking, animal abuse, child abuse or abuse during pregnancy, escalation of violence, untreated mental health issues and unemployment.

■If you have been strangled it’s very important to seek medical attention. Even when there are no signs or symptoms at the time of the incident, symptoms can develop 48-72 hours later and can be potentially lethal. Signs to look for can include dizziness or seeing spots, difficulty breathing, unable to swallow, raspy voice, ringing in ears or sore throat. If you can’t seek immediate medical attention, call your doctor or ask a trusted adult to observe you for any of the signs listed above.

■Strangulation is a felony crime in Massachusetts. Call 911 or your local hotline for assistance with a restraining order or to press criminal charges. The courts are currently closed to the public but you can still access legal assistance over the phone. In Northampton, the number is 413-584-7400; Belchertown, 413-323-4056; and Greenfield, 413-774-5533.

■Calls to hotlines are free and confidential. Advocates can help you think about what to do and work with you to create a safety plan whether or not you choose to leave.

Here are some hotline contacts: Hampshire County-Safe Passage, 413-586-5066; Franklin County-NELCWIT, 413-772-0806; and Llamanos Spanish Language Line, 800-223-5001.

Remember you are not alone and help is available.

Mary A. Kociela is the director of Domestic & Sexual Violence Projects for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office.
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