Victory: Pennsylvania Strengthens Domestic Violence Laws

Pennsylvania just became the 38th state to enact a law classifying non-lethal strangulation as a stand-alone crime.

Strangulation is the single most accurate predictor of a future domestic violence homicide, but has been historically difficult to prosecute. Sometimes victims don’t show visible injuries, though in many cases, their esophagus swells later and they suffocate to death.

Victims choked by abusive partners are 7x more likely to be killed by them in the future than victims of other forms of physical abuse. Experts recognize that strangulation is a uniquely terrifying form of physical abuse and psychological control used by domestic abusers—and they say it is on the rise.

The goal of the House Bill 1581 (Rep. Becky Corbin, R-Chester) is to increase offender accountability, which can prevent future homicides. The effort was championed by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, our partner in the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health.

Rep. Becky Corbin (R-Chester): “When police and paramedics arrive on the scene and find the victim conscious and alert, it is sometimes assumed that the assault may not have been that serious. In reality however, that individual may have been only seconds from death, nearly murdered.” 

The new offense is graded as a second-degree misdemeanor, but could rise to a second-degree felony if it is committed in conjunction with sexual violence or the victim is a care-dependent person or a household member, according to the Bucks County Courier Times. It becomes a first-degree felony offense if the victim has an active protection from abuse order, an instrument of crime is used or the defendant has a previous strangulation conviction.

From the report:

One of the first studies to examine it in 2001 found that 68 percent of the 62 women in a Dallas women’s shelter reported being strangled by an abusive partner on [an] average of 5.3 times. A 2008 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine suggested that the risks of an attempted homicide increase about sevenfold for women who have been strangled by their partner. The study also found that nearly half of all individuals murdered in domestic assaults and 45 percent of victims of attempted murder had been strangled by a partner in the previous year.

Approximately 10% of intimate-partner homicides in the United States are executed by strangulation. In Pennsylvania, it is the third leading cause of DV fatality, after gunfire and stabbing.

Last year, 113 Pennsylvanians were killed by domestic violence, with an additional 33 perpetrators dying by suicide.

If you are experiencing abuse, help is available. Click here for a list of hotline numbers for every county in Pennsylvania. The National Domestic Violence hotline can be reached at 800-537-2238.

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The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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