By Michael Crutcher

ARCHDIOCESE of Brisbane frontline domestic violence workers have urged a closer focus on strangulation in a bid to lower the number of fatalities in Queensland homes.

Centacare’s Family and Relationships Services say any evidence of non-lethal strangulation places a victim immediately in a “high-risk” domestic violence situation.

Their urgings are supported by a State Government advisory board that has issued a recent report warning that “more needs to be done to identify and respond to non-lethal strangulation”.

The Domestic and Family Violence Death Review and Advisory Board has supported a review of the legislation around non-lethal strangulation.

Queensland was the first state to introduce a stand-alone offence for non-lethal strangulation in a domestic violence context and the “vast majority” of those found guilty are jailed, according to the advisory board.

The board has made five new recommendations to the State Government around strangulation, including a need to improve resources for police and health professionals.

“There are still issues in service responses when non-lethal strangulation occurs,” the advisory board’s report stated.

“In one particular case after a near-fatal assault, attending paramedics and police focused on transporting the perpetrator to hospital for mental health treatment.

“They were dismissive of the physical impact of this near lethal strangulation episode.”

Centacare’s frontline team, whose work across the Brisbane archdiocese includes support for victims and their children, and programs for perpetrators, has highlighted its concerns around strangulation as Queensland marks May as Domestic and Family Violence Protection Month.

“Our risk assessment pushes strangulation immediately to a level of high risk,” Centacare’s Sunshine Coast Regional Domestic and Family Violence Service co-ordinator Angela Short said.

“We’re learning more all the time about strangulation, and more work needs to be done.

“It’s not always easy to see. Sometimes, it’s an invisible injury.”

The advisory board’s findings back up Centacare’s on-the-ground observations.

The board’s 2017-18 review, released weeks ago, found that the risk of a homicide in domestic relationships doubled when non-lethal strangulation was present.

This makes its detection vital in taking proactive measures to protect vulnerable partners.

Centacare Family and Relationship Services’ Wayne McTaggart said frontline workers continued to learn more about strangulation.

“There is much more of a control aspect to strangulation than there is to something like a perpetrator lashing out at their partner,” he said.

“And the law now sees it in that higher category, which is important.

“We’re also seeing that the main cause to strangulation is not addiction or drugs. There is much more to it than that.

“At the core of strangulation is power, intimidation and control.”

The advisory board’s 13 new recommendations to the State Government to improve the safety of vulnerable partners included five relating to non-lethal strangulation.

They included:

  • Closer examination by Queensland Health and the Queensland Police Service of the role of clinical forensic evidence in securing convictions for non-lethal strangulation
  • That Queensland Health explore opportunities to increase public health clinicians’ (including ambulance officers, accident and emergency staff, drug and alcohol services, mental health clinicians) knowledge of the signs of, and appropriate responses to, non-lethal strangulation
  • That police evaluate existing training to increase frontline responding officers’ knowledge of the signs of, and appropriate responses to, non-lethal strangulation.
  • That Queensland Health explore better ways to share data with relevant departments to improve the evidence base regarding ongoing health impacts of non-lethal strangulation

That the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners explore opportunities to increase general practitioners’ knowledge of the signs of, and appropriate responses to, non-lethal strangulation including appropriate referral pathways.

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