Strangulation felonies have quadrupled in the last 6 years

By Derek Staahl

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Health providers in San Diego County will start receiving new training this week to better spot signs of domestic violence strangulation.

Health professionals at all of the county’s major health providers will take part in new training Wednesday, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said. Additionally, thousands of posters that read, “Only you decide what goes on your neck,” will go up in clinics, urging victims to report strangulation.

The $25,000 campaign, called San Diego County Health CARES, was announced during Domestic Violence Awareness month. It is the latest effort to address strangulation crimes in San Diego County, which has seen prosecutions of strangulation-related felonies jump four-fold in the last six years.

“This initiative is another big step in fighting domestic violence,” Stephan said. “We know that victims are often reluctant to report to police but will trust their healthcare provider, so this is an opportunity for early detection and intervention that could save lives.”

Over the last 22 years, strangulation accounted for 13 percent of domestic violence homicides in San Diego County, she said.

In 2017, police agencies in San Diego County agreed to adopt a new protocol for responding to suspected strangulation cases in which officers now refer victims to forensic nurses for evaluation. The protocol is the first of its kind in California and among the first in the country, said Palomar Forensic Health Services director Michelle Shores.

The change has had a significant impact on prosecutions, Stephan said. In 2015, there were 66 prosecutions for strangulation. In 2018, the number jumped to more than 250.

In more than half of strangulation cases, there are no marks or physical signs of injury on the victim’s neck, making detection more difficult, said San Diego County Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Tuteur. That makes it even more important that doctors know what kind of questions to ask patients and what other symptoms to identify.

Symptoms of strangulation may include vision and hearing loss, lapses in memory, pain while swallowing, and vocal changes, Shores said.

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