Things got physical again, but this time it was a little different, or maybe it was something that had happened before. During the struggle, he grabbed your neck. It scared you–you were worried that you may die. You don’t think you passed out and he said he “only choked you a little bit.” There were no marks afterward, so maybe he was right and you overreacted. You feel like there is no reason to call the police or go to the hospital–if there are no marks, then there is no injury and no one would believe you anyway, right?. Your throat is a little hoarse, but it only lasts that way for a bit. Just like previous times, he apologizes and you believe him that it won’t happen again. Like millions of other victims who have gone through similar situations, you let it go…but what you don’t know could very well end up killing you.
Often one of the first things victims (and abusers) do after a physical incident is check for injuries. However, Family Violence Prevention Services reports that only 50% of people who have been strangled show any sign of external injuries, and of that 50% who do, 15% of those individuals have injuries that can’t even be seen using a camera.
Those who do show visible signs have neck bruising or “petechiae spots” (small spots that can show on the victim’s neck, earlobes, and scalp). Often these are so light or hidden from view that they are rarely noticed. The lack of marks gives both the victim and the abuser a false sense of risk and potential injury. So many people believe in the fact that if you can’t see something, then it isn’t severe.
What most victims don’t know is that when an abuser grabs their neck, puts them in a choke hold, or covers their mouth so they are unable to breathe, they are being strangled, not choked. Choking happens from the inside, like when you choke on food or a foreign object–it blocks your passage of breathing. Once the object is out, you can breathe again, with little difficulties. However, while strangling also stops the ability for air to escape your body, it is done from the outside and is often referred to as impeding breath/circulation. According to Domestic Shelters, “During strangulation, the pressure applied to the neck impedes oxygen by preventing blood flow to and from the brain.”
It can take a victim 10 seconds to lose consciousness, and under five minutes to die. It only takes one strangulation to cause brain damage and other serious side effects.
It is the internal injuries of strangulation that most victims, and even some trained first response professionals, do not know. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some common symptoms of strangulation include:
- Sore or hoarse throat,
- Difficulty breathing,
- Ringing ears,
- Sleep problems, and
- Vision problems (temporary or permanent).
The lack of oxygen can also cause miscarriages, loss of consciousness, memory loss, droopy eyelids, and incontinence (meaning that your organs have begun to fail). Frequently injuries to your larynx or arteries can also occur, which can lead to dissected arteries, blood clots, stroke, and immediate or delayed death.
Through strangulation, the abuser sends a strong message. Most victims fear for their lives, yet when the abuser lets go, the victim is often assured that if the abuser wanted to kill them, they would have. Strangulation is one of the most dangerous forms of control in a domestic violence relationship. The abuser is able to prove to the victim that not only do they have control over what the victim does, who they talk to, or how they feel about themselves, but they can also control the breaths they take. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a victim who has been strangled even once is ten times more likely to be killed by their abuser.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline says that 1 out of 4 women will experience domestic violence within their lifetime, out of those women, 67% will experience non-fatal strangulation. Victims, survivors, and organizations, such as BTS, are creating national awareness of domestic violence by breaking the silence and creating awareness within society. Although slowly, laws and previous processes are changing for the better. The more others become informed, the more research, review of laws, and first response procedures are being updated. Strangulation in many states is now considered a felony in hopes of holding the abusers more responsible for what is currently considered a predictor of homicide. A Lethality Assessment has also been created to help victims, survivors, advocates, and law enforcement determine the lethality risk the abuser imposes on their victim. It takes breaking the silence to raise awareness and prevent the hidden dangers of strangulation.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.