It has been announced that from June 7, 2022, prosecutors will be able to charge perpetrators with non-fatal strangulation and suffocation offences. The offence will apply to any case where a person intentionally strangles or suffocates another person, including in cases of domestic abuse. This has been a long time coming and victims of abuse will see it as positive move.
Prior to these offences, victims who alleged strangulation found it difficult to pursue against the abuser, as instances can occur where there are no physical marks on the neck. In the past, abusers have used strangulation as a way of putting fear into their victims by showing how much control they had over them.
Whilst the injury is not visible, it is often forgotten that victims can develop psychological damage from the abuse and also that it can bring about long-term health conditions due to the lack of oxygen to the brain when the strangulation or suffocation occurs. Sadly, when the abusers were charged, the offences fell under common assault for which the sentencing is significantly less compared to actual bodily harm.
Studies from The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 2008, showed that a victim who is strangled one time is 700% more likely to be seriously assaulted again and 800% more likely to become victim of murder by their partner.
Whilst it is extremely encouraging that victims are finally being given a voice, careful consideration needs to be given to how different organisations will be made aware of this development and that specific training is given, in particular to the police and CPS to ensure the new offences are applied correctly.
The new offences under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 will now carry a summary conviction:
(i) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months (or six months, if the offence was committed before the coming into force of paragraph 24(2) of Schedule 22 to the Sentencing Act 2020), or (ii) to a fine, or both; on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine, or both.
The guidance on the new laws also includes that both non-fatal strangulation and suffocation can occur during ‘rough sex’ and that perpetrators will not be able to claim a defence that the victim consented as part of getting sexual gratification. In particular, it is important to note that the legislation clearly states under s71(5) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, that ‘for the purposes of this section it does not matter whether the harm was inflicted for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification for defendant, victim or some other person’. The CPS has provided guidance to assist prosecutors in ensuring that they are able to have a robust case that will be put before the Court.
It is hoped that this concrete legislation will offer more protection to individuals and will hopefully give more confidence to victims that the prosecutors will bring the most serious charges available.
Bastian Lloyd Morris