Participating in the training were over 200 local law enforcement officials, medical and social service responders
First responders from across Clackamas County participated by the hundreds in a multi-day program last week providing critical training addressing a highly lethal form of intrapersonal violence that experts say is frequently seen in cases of domestic abuse.
Strangulation — or the obstruction of blood vessels and/or airflow in the neck resulting in suffocation, per the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention — is one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence, resulting in severe and lasting physical and mental trauma for survivors.
To help law enforcment, medical and social service responders in improving their detection, documentation and response to domestic violence strangulation cases, the institute hosted four days of training from March 8-11 for more than 200 participants. The institute offers a variety of training programs for over 8,000 professionals across the country annually, per its website.
As part of last week’s training, held at the Al Kader Shrine Center in Wilsonville, participants on Wednesday, March 9 were asked to use information they studied earlier in the program to investigate a simulated living-room crime scene for evidence of a potential strangulation case.
Gael Strack, CEO of the institute, says the exercise involved multidisciplinary teams comprised of police officers, medical experts and more testing their ability to identify markers of a domestic violence case and use trauma-informed interviewing techniques to piece together the details of the crime.
Participants in the training program included officials from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, and police departments in Gladstone, Lake Oswego, Molalla, Oregon City, Sandy and West Linn.
Strack said an overall national increase in education and awareness regarding strangulation has been key over the past three decades in helping introduce greater legal sanctions aimed at preventing the violent crime.
“Back in 1995, we didn’t have any state with a strangulation law,” explained Strack, who said she began her mission to bring awareness to the issue that year while working as a San Diego prosecutor after two teenage girls died from domestic violence within her jurisdiction, with evidence of a history of strangulation in both cases.
“Strangulation has always been there, but it has been missed, and people have not been trained,” Strack said. “What we’re seeing now is, with more awareness, more education, more laws passing, it shines a light on a very serious crime.”
Strack said that strangulation laws are now in place in 48 states, including Oregon, which recently made domestic violence strangulation a felony in 2019 — however, she added, many remain uninformed of how dangerous the crime is.
The institute houses a National Medical Advisory Committee chaired by Dr. Bill Smock, a police surgeon for the Louisville Metro Police Department, who said that “not being able to breathe is probably one of the most threatening things that any human being can experience.”
“We know that when you apply pressure to the arteries, and you block blood flow to the brain, the brain has no oxygen reserve,” Smock said. “Once you go unconscious, brain cells are dying, you’re sustaining brain damage. So if you go unconscious from strangulation, every second your brain goes without oxygen, millions of cells die. Millions.”
According to a timeline of the physiological consequences of strangulation compiled by Smock and other experts, loss of consciousness occurs within about 7 seconds of blocked blood flow to the brain, leading to loss of bowel control within a minimum of 30 seconds and possible death after about a minute — and certain death after about 150 seconds.
Survivors of strangulation, Smock said, are at a high risk of permanent brain damage and trauma-related illness from the incident. The lasting psychological consequences of strangulation often include post-traumatic stress disorder, memory loss and suicide ideation, Strack added.
According to the institute, a woman who has experienced “a nonfatal strangulation incident with her intimate partner is 750% more likely to be killed by the same perpetrator,” and the survivor is at higher risk of a violent death within the next one to three years, per a press release.
Casey Gwinn, president of the institute, said that strangulation is more than a 90% accurate predictor of future domestic violence, yet is not always given the same level of attention as more visible physical injuries when police or social services respond.
He added: “The majority of police officers killed in America are killed by men with a history of domestic violence against women, the majority of cops who end up assaulting human beings in their job, usually have their own rageful history of violence against women in their own lives.”
Gwinn said that these abusers are often perpetuating a cycle of domestic abuse that goes back generations in their own family, adding: “if you put an overlay of poverty, racism, drugs, alcohol, you end up with what we call ‘force multipliers’ for disparate impacts on communities of color.”
Officials for the institute said it has seen a drastic need for strangulation response and prevention services since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which, Gwinn said “violence went up, alcohol use went up, loss of employment went up and pornography use went up.”
Within the last 18 months, Gwinn said the institute believes domestic violence homicides are up between 50% and 100% based on unofficial data, adding that during the initial day of training, nearly the whole room raised their hand when asked if they noticed an increase in strangulation reports over the past two years.
“Our big focus in this training is, if you want to prevent homicides, you’ve got to focus on stranglers,” Gwinn said, adding that the push for increased strangulation prevention continues amid ongoing national debates regarding criminal justice reform.
“Jails are full, and you don’t want to have more people in jail,” Strack said, “But what we say is that passing a strangulation law is actually homicide prevention; we can prevent a homicide by taking strangulation cases seriously at an early level.”
Sponsors of the training program include Clackamas County Children, Family and Community Connections, which provides services in youth wellness, workforce development and more for families, businesses and organizations countywide.
Additional sponsors include the Clackamas County Criminal Justice Training Committee, the Hillsboro Police Domestic Violence Response Team, the Lake Oswego Police Department, the Lake Oswego Fire Department, the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon Peace Officers Association.
Source Credit: JAELEN OGADHOH, Clackamas Review. Link to original article.