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Victims may minimize abuse with their choice of words

The choice of words to describe an act can make a big difference in understanding it. You’ve probably never thought much about this, but consider the words “choke” and “strangle.”
“Choking is not a crime,” said Laura Berry, director of the Indiana Coalition of Domestic Violence, who was in Harrison County earlier this month to talk about domestic violence. “Strangulation is a criminal act.”
But often victims who have survived attempts to strangle them fail to use the appropriate word, opting to say they were “choked” instead.
“Choke doesn’t sound as bad,” Berry said.
By definition, to choke involves an internal obstruction of the airway, while strangulation “is a form of asphyxia characterized by the closure of the blood vessels and air passages of the neck as a result of external pressures on the neck,” she said.
Surprisingly, “It doesn’t take many pounds of pressure” to strangle someone, Berry said.
While it takes about five to seven pounds of pressure to pull the trigger of a gun, it takes less than that to strangle a human being.
“Even a child can do it,” Berry said.
A study of 200 strangulations in San Diego revealed that 62 percent of victims had no visible injury, while 22 percent of victims had minor visible injuries and 16 percent had significant visible marks.
Only three of the 200 victims sought medical attention at the time law enforcement was called.
“Officers rarely suggested that the victim seek medical attention,” Berry added, possibly because the officers “underestimated the seriousness” of strangulation.
All but one of the suspects in the 200 cases were male. Their average age was in the mid-20s.
Berry said most of the suspects had jobs that required them to work with their hands.
In 90 percent of the cases, there was a history of domestic violence, and in 65 percent of the cases, children witnessed the violent act.
Berry said there are three basic types of strangulation: hanging, which is nearly always a suicide; ligature, often with a telephone cord, rope, wire or clothing, and manual, by using the hands, forearms, or standing or kneeling on the neck.
“The marks (left from strangulation) are all different,” Berry said.
She provided a statement from Dr. George McClain of the San Diego Emergency Dept., that said: “The use of an object in strangulation increases the likelihood of lethality. Similarly, if the victim blacks out, she is in great danger of not regaining consciousness or sustaining brain damage from lack of oxygen.”
“So if the victim tells you she blacked out, seek medical attention and investigate further,” Berry said.
The signs and symptoms of strangulation, which may not be noticeable until several hours following the attack, vary from mild (neck pain, sore throat, scratch marks) to more severe (fainting or unconsciousness, loss of bodily function, red eye). A pregnant victim can even have a miscarriage, Berry said.
“Officers should always call EMS due to potential internal injuries that can be fatal and might not be apparent,” she said. “Because of underlying brain damage by lack of oxygen during strangulation, victims have died up to several weeks later.”
Proper documentation at the time of the crime would make it easier to file murder charges after the victim died, she said.
On Friday, Nov. 1, Marion County Judge Ruth Reichard, who was involved in re-drafting the protective order statutes, will be the guest speaker at the Harrison County Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Coordinating Council. The meeting begins at 11:45 a.m. at Lincoln Hills Christian Church in Corydon.