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Law Commission Recommends a New Strangulation Offence

Law Commission Recommends a New Strangulation Offence

Strangulation is a particularly dangerous and common form of family violence which blights New Zealand society. Strangulation restricts the victim’s ability to breathe and provokes a sense of terror in them. Studies have shown that if a victim of family violence is strangled, she has a high risk of being killed in the future by her attacker.

The Hon Sir Grant Hammond, President of the Law Commission said:

“The utter terror that is experienced by these victims and the known relationship between strangulation and future fatal attack requires a stronger criminal justice response for these offenders. Strangulation is an act that is designed to control and manipulate the victims.”

In mid-2015, the Minister of Justice asked the Law Commission to examine whether New Zealand should enact a specific criminal offence of strangulation, as some other countries have done. The Commission’s report Strangulation: The case for a new offence (NZLC R138, 2016) was tabled in Parliament today.

The Law Commission has found that the risks to victims following strangulation are not well understood by the Police, judges and others who assist victims of family violence.

This puts those victims at risk of further violence, including a fatal attack.

Dr Wayne Mapp, the lead Commissioner on the review, said:

“The risks to victims following strangulation are under-recognised at every level of intervention with family violence. It means that people who are making decisions designed to keep women safe are not giving sufficient weight to a significant risk factor.”

In at least half of all cases, strangulation does not result in an obvious external injury even when victims suffer internal injuries or serious mental harm. The lack of obvious external injury makes it difficult to lay serious charges against the perpetrator. The Law Commission found that in these cases, the abusers are often charged with a low level offence.

Dr Mapp said:

“The perpetrators of strangulation are often getting away with a much lower sentence than they deserve. New Zealand needs a new offence that is designed to hold these people accountable for the seriousness of the harm. A new offence
of strangulation will help to keep victims of family violence safer. It will ensure that the future risks for victims of strangulation are taken into account by Police and judges.”

The Law Commission has recommended that a new offence of strangulation should be enacted. That offence should require proof of strangulation, but not proof of injury. A conviction should result in a term of imprisonment that reflects the significant harm suffered by the victims. The new offence would have a maximum sentence of 7 years.

What is Strangulation?

• Strangulation is the interference with blood circulation or breathing by external pressure to the neck, leading to a lack of oxygen supply to the body.

• Pressure to the neck can cause unconsciousness within seconds, and death within minutes.

• At least half of cases do not result in visible injury.

• The perpetrators of strangulation are almost always male.

What has the Law Commission recommended?

• A new offence should be enacted under which a person who strangles or suffocates another person should be liable to a maximum term of imprisonment of seven years.

• Strangulation in the course of other violence should increase the sentence imposed on the perpetrator.

• The Police should specifically record whether a family violence incident involved an allegation of strangulation.

• Police and judges should receive education about the signs and risks of strangulation.

-ENDS-

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