By: Tahlequah Daily Press

Strangulation is often the cause of death in domestic violence cases, and with that in mind, Help-In-Crisis sponsored a free informational seminar to educate local law enforcement, medical practitioners and attorneys on its hazards.

People from around the state packed into the Northeastern State University ballroom to listen to Casey Gwinn, president and co-founder of Alliance for HOPE International, identify strangulation and the perils it poses to health.

Along with the information provided during the lectures, six continuing education credits were available to attorneys, advocates and those seeking Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training certification.

Gwinn has written many books and articles on domestic violence and the importance of addressing childhood trauma as one of the country’s leading public health issues. Gwinn was the elected city attorney of San Diego from 1996 to 2004 and has been recognized by The American Lawyer magazine as one of the top 45 public attorneys in the country.

Prior to his elected position, Gwinn founded and led the City Attorneys Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Unit from 1986 to 1996.

Gwinn said the signs of strangulation are not always apparent, so being proactive in aiding victims is essential.

“For years, we just missed it; battered women across America have been saying, ‘He choked me,’ and nobody really paid attention,” Gwinn said. “If she had a black eye, everyone would focus on that, and if they didn’t see any sign of physical injury on the neck, they wouldn’t pay attention to it. Here we are, all these years later, and it’s very clear: A man who punches a woman is an idiot, and a man who strangles a woman is a killer.”

During part of Gwinn’s lecture, he pointed out that while all forms of domestic violence should be taken seriously, strangling is a clear indicator of a situation’s escalating to the point where the abuser could take his victim’s life. He also said strangulation is a gendered crime, and that 95 to 99 percent of the time, cases are of men strangling women.

“We need to start treating strangulation cases as homicide prevention,” Gwinn said. “Strangulation is a high-grade marker for later homicide; it’s the second most significant marker in all of domestic violence research.”

He said the No. 1 marker is the presence of a gun in the home.

“The reality is that he may not end up killing her by strangling her; he may end up shooting her, but the marker that he was going to kill her was that he strangled her previously, because strangulation is such an intimate life-and-death thing,” Gwinn said. “Predator animals always go for the necks of other animals. They don’t go for the foot, or the leg, or the torso; they go for the neck.”

Gwinn teaches a strangulation institute in San Diego, and Margaret Cook, director of Help-In-Crisis, said the agency was glad to bring someone with such vast knowledge and expertise on the subject to speak in Tahlequah.

“This is a condensed version of what he does there, so this isn’t so much a ‘train the trainer’ kind of thing, as much as it is to get the information to the general public,” Cook said. “Strangulation [is] one of the under-reported crimes because it frequently doesn’t show a lot of external physical effects, and the internal effects are even harder to detect.”

Cook said that generally, domestic abuse increases in severity and frequency, but the level of abuse depends on the relationship and the batterer. She said domestic abuse tends to increase after an initial “honeymoon period,” when no maltreatment is taking place.

“It’s the good times that keep the partner believing something can change,” Cook said. “A critical part of a domestic violence pattern is maintaining that ‘good time.’ The longer the relationship goes, the shorter those good-time periods will be, and so the domestic violence episodes will come around more frequently, and then the more severe those episodes will become.”

She said this pattern can go on for years and maintain a fairly status quo.

“But probably the biggest indicator of when it will become more severe is a major life change,” Cook said. “A pregnancy, a change in the family, or if at some point he figures out that she’s trying to leave – that’s the most lethal time for a woman, because he feels like he’s getting ready to lose control.”

In Oklahoma, domestic abuse by strangulation can carry a one- to three-year prison sentence or a $3,000 fine, or both, for a first offense, and a three- to 10-year sentence or a $20,000 fine, or both, for subsequent offenses.

Tahlequah Police Department Chief Nate King said proper response to domestic violence is of the utmost importance.

“Our main job is to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” King said. “Any further training or information we can get to make our job easier or make us better cops is just going to make us more effective and efficient.”

King said continuing education is required of all officers through CLEET, and that TPD has actually doubled the CLEET standard to 52 hours to meet yearly requirements.

“So the officers here today are getting that, but at the same time bettering themselves,” King said. “For too many years, law enforcement has been reactive, and recognizing this can prevent future crimes from happening. Our job isn’t to end up punishing people or things like that; our job is to prevent events from continuing to happen. We have to break that cycle.”

Children are often caught in the wake of abuse or are the victims of it themselves. During Gwinn’s lecture, he said 75 percent of children who were exposed to domestic abuse became victims as adults, and 78.6 percent ended up becoming perpetrators of domestic violence.

Tanner Hendley, a school resource officer in Hulbert, attended Tuesday’s lecture to further his education and to better serve the community he is charged with protecting.

“We don’t really get much domestic violence training, so the more we get, the better we’re going to be,” Hendley said. “To me, it’s important, because if you think about it, as an SRO, I see the abuse in the kids, and that’s where I can kind of get involved.”

He said these crimes aren’t usually reported to SROs, and even if they are, the victims usually don’t want to press charges.

“It’s hard for the district attorney and the agencies to actually try to prosecute somebody when the victim is kind of fighting against them,” he said. “So it helps us if we can get all the evidence we can, and it starts with those kids.”

Article Source: Gwinn: Strangulation a step toward spousal murder