SOUTH BEND – So far this year, St. Joe County prosecutors have filed charges in 18 strangulation cases. That’s more than a quarter of all SVU felonies.

But experts say there are probably more cases out there that never get reported. And this particular type of assault is one of the trickiest to prosecute.

St. Joseph County SVU Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Steele says the lack of witnesses, evidence and hesitancy of victims to come forward, makes strangulation one of the most difficult crimes to take to trial. Unfortunately, it’s also among one of the most savage.

Most people believe you need to suffer bruises on your neck for choking to be classified as strangulation.

“That just isn’t true in most cases,” said Steele.

A recent San Diego study found that people who have been strangled are seven times more likely to be a victims of homicide.

“When someone strangles another person,” said Steele. “What they’re really saying to that person is, I control whether or not you breathe. So I control whether or not you live or die. I control you to the very point where you may die unless I let go. That’s a lot of control.”

That’s why Steele says it’s so important that victims speak up, report assaults, and follow through on prosecuting their attacker.

“We’re asking them to get on the stand and point at that person that they love,” said Steele. “And say he or she did this to me. And that’s hard.”