In March 2016, the New Zealand Law Commission released an extensive report to review a possible law reform that would see fatal and non-fatal strangulation become a crime. In the report, The New Zealand Law Commission refer to the Fourth Annual Report of the Family Violence Death Review Committee (FVDRC), released in June 2014, which have investigated a number of family violence deaths to better understand how we can prevent them.

The FVDRC report demonstrated that of the homicide cases that were reviewed strangulation was commonly historically present. The report detailed the minimisation of strangulation by the victims themselves and the practitioners involved, and how few cases would result in prosecution. The report advised that if there were to be a specific strangulation offence, then it would help to highlight the high risk of fatality when strangulation has been present and prevent future incidents with other potential victims.

What is strangulation?

The New Zealand Law Commission defines strangulation as ‘the interference with blood or airflow by external pressure to the neck, leading to asphyxia (lack of oxygen supply to the body),” (chapter 2, p. 8). Strangulation can involve the use of objects to apply the external pressure or occurs manually with their hands.

The effects of strangulation:

It does not take much time or pressure for the victim to fall unconscious or for it to have disastrous effects. The New Zealand Law Commission reported that it can only take three to five kilograms of pressure, applied to the neck for ten seconds, for a victim to fall unconscious. Three to five kilograms of pressure is roughly the amount someone may use to polish cutlery or their vehicle. Put simply, strangulation cuts of the oxygen supply to the body that is essential for life, and death can occur within four to five minutes.

Unfortunately, after strangulation has occurred, 50% of victims will have no visible marks and 85% will have marks that do not show in photographs (Rob Veale Ltd). Some woman will minimise the seriousness of the strangulation due to having no visible injuries however this does not lessen the effects that strangulation can have.

There are many symptoms of strangulation and they can have a wide range of effects on the victim. The New Zealand Law Commission cited the most common symptoms as “breathing changes and/or shortness of breath, difficulty with swallowing or a ‘thick’ feeling in the throat/neck, cough nausea or vomiting, cognitive changes and tinnitus” (Chapter 2, p. 9).

What to do if you have been strangled?

The most important information to take away from this blog is to always seek medical attention if you have been strangled. Strangulation can result in internal injuries that are not obvious to the victim and delayed symptoms that can result in death hours or weeks after the incident has occurred (Chapter 2, p. 10). Seeking medical treatment does not have to mean pressing charges at that moment but medical professionals can provide evidence for the police if the victim does want to make a statement.

The emotional effects of strangulation can be difficult for the victim to process without support in place. Majority of victims will report that they felt as though they were going to die in that moment and feel extremely afraid of the offender. We encourage all women who have been assaulted, or abused in any form, to make contact with their local Women’s Refuge so that the right support can be provided.

New law change in New Zealand:

Following the reports released by FVDRC and the New Zealand Law Commission, the New Zealand government amended the Crimes Act 1961 to include Strangulation as a specific chargeable offence. Section 189A of the Crimes Act 1961 come into effect December 2018, which can result in the guilty party receiving imprisonment for a period that does not exceed 7 years.

In the above article, several resources are mentioned or quoted which can provided you with in-depth information about strangulation in the context of intimate partner violence. These resources have been listed below.