originally published 

WILLMAR — A two-day training starts today in Willmar to address one of the gaps in preventing and responding to domestic violence: choking and strangulation.

The session Thursday and today is being held as part of an initiative by the Kandiyohi County Attorney’s Office to raise the knowledge and skill levels of law enforcement, health care workers and domestic violence advocates about this aspect of domestic assault.

Dozens of professionals, from surrounding counties as well as Kandiyohi County, are expected to attend the training, which will be led by the San Diego-based Alliance for HOPE International and its Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention.

Strangling accounts for at least 10 percent of domestic violence deaths among women in the U.S. each year, according to HOPE International. It also happens frequently among nonfatal domestic assaults.

This type of attack can be challenging to investigate and prosecute because external injuries from choking and strangling often aren’t immediately visible, making it harder to establish evidence and leaving victims vulnerable to future attacks. The county attorney’s office wants to change this, said Shane Baker, county attorney.

“Domestic violence perpetrators use strangulation as a form of control to silence their victims and keep them in a state of fear,” he said. “We’re working to hold these violent abusers accountable.”

Earlier this year the Kandiyohi County Attorney’s Office received a two-year, $78,000 grant through the Minnesota Office of Justice and the Violence Against Women Act. The grant is funding the training this week. The money also is being used in two other areas: training local responders on stalking prevention and investigation, and training in the use of specialized LED cameras that improve the gathering of forensic evidence in domestic assaults involving choking and strangling.

In an update on the project this week to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Baker said eight Illumacams have been acquired and distributed among the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office, Willmar Police Department and Rice Memorial Hospital.

The technology uses an alternate light source to illuminate and capture enhanced images of bruising that may not be visible to the naked eye.

The first training session in the use of an Illumacam took place in April, Baker said. “We learned from that.” The technology is cutting-edge, he told the county commissioners. “This is very new to the state, not just to our area.”

More training, led by an agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, will be held in October.

One of the focuses is on how to implement the technology in the field and capture photographic evidence that will best aid prosecution of a domestic assault involving strangling.

Baker and Stephanie Felt, project coordinator, said the training this week also will cover stalking behavior, how to identify it and how to respond to it.

“It doesn’t seem like a dangerous thing but it is very dangerous obsessive behavior,” Felt said.

Kandiyohi County is about one-third of the way through the grant project and plans to offer the training multiple times to ensure as many professionals and advocates as possible are able to attend, Felt said.

With a previous grant through the Violence Against Women Act, Kandiyohi County was able to fund the establishment of a sexual assault nurse examiner program and train a handful of nurses at Rice Memorial Hospital in best practices for caring for victims of sexual assault and collecting forensic evidence.

The ultimate goal is for Kandiyohi County to raise the level of its overall response to domestic violence, Baker said. “We wanted to be more proactive.”

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