Strangulation not uncommon in domestic violence assault

Oct 13, 2021, 6:47 PM
emotional abuse moab police petito domestic violence strangulation gabby petito investigation...
Bodycam footage from the Moab Police Department shows Gabby Petito while speaking with officers. Photo: Moab Police Department

SALT LAKE CITY — Word that Gabby Petito died as a result of strangulation shines a light on a trend many people may not know about: in more than 40% of the deaths of women murdered in domestic violence assaults, their partners strangled them at some point in the year before their deaths. 

The role of strangulation in domestic violence

A 2008 study found 43% of women killed in domestic violence homicides experienced choking or strangulation at some point in the year prior to their murders.

Liz Sollis, spokesperson for the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, told KSL NewsRadio’s Dave and Dujanovic Wednesday strangulation not only happens more often than you think, it also may not always result in death. 

Read the study: Non-fatal strangulation is an important risk factor for homicide of women

“A lot of times, those who are strangling their loved one, their victim, are doing it to indicate that they have power over their life, and that they can kill,” she said. 

That does not necessarily mean someone used their hands to carry out the strangulation. 

“It could be kneeling on their neck, it could be a pillow, it could be a cord, a tie – like, it could be any tool that they could try to constrict that airway,” said Sollis. 

Strangulation does not always leave a visible mark

Sollis said strangulation in domestic violence may not always leave a visible mark behind, either. Often, she said, it leaves neurological damage in the form of memory loss or headaches. Bruises, if they appear at all, might be hard to see. 

“The blood vessels that rupture are usually above the area of constriction. So you might see it behind their ears, you also might see it higher up on their face,” she said. 

She noted many female victims become very good at covering any visible marks with makeup, feeling shame or blaming themselves for the assault. 

Importantly, Sollis also pointed out many victims don’t realize they’ve been strangled. Therefore, law enforcement must ask the question in many different ways to determine someone’s risk. 

“People may not know the term strangulation, so ‘choked’ makes more sense,” she said. “Asking in a variety of ways, like ‘Did they strangle you, did they choke you? Have they ever tried to do anything that would cut off your breathing?’ So that people can go, ‘Oh, yeah. Actually, that one time they did put the pillow on me but they said they were just playing, but I couldn’t breathe.'” 

Read more: 

Domestic violence resources

If you or somebody you know are experiencing trouble linked to domestic violence, the following resources are available to you.

Utah Domestic Violence LINKLine
1-800-897-LINK (5465)

If LINKLine advocates are experiencing an increased call volume, calls will be forwarded to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

StrongHearts Native Helpline

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Strangulation not uncommon in domestic violence assault