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Domestic violence strangulation cases rising in southeast Queensland

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Shocking violence: “There needs to be a wider education on these signs to look for with strangulation. We know that strangulation does increase the risks of homicide so it’s very important that anyone involved in helping domestic violence victims has the proper education.”

ANTI-domestic violence experts have called for more education on the signs of strangulation as police cope with new cases sparked by a change in legislation.

The introduction of non-fatal strangulation to the Queensland criminal code in 2016 has resulted in more than 1400 reported offences. More than half of those were in southeast Queensland.

The law was introduced from the State Government’s Not Now, Not Ever domestic violence taskforce which accepted evidence that strangulation significantly increased the chance of murder.

However, strangulation was included in the  broader offence of physical abuse  which did not allow it to be as easily highlighted in legal proceedings.

That new law sparked a campaign to educate those involved in fighting domestic violence about the signs of strangulation. These include advice that physical signs may not be seen for 48 hours.

Centacare counsellors knew the anecdotes – they had heard from women who had called police to their homes after their partners attempted to strangle them.

They had no signs of the strangulation however, in self defence, they had scratched their partners who showed the bloody marks to police and insisted the woman was the perpetrator.

“We know these stories – they are real and they have significantly impacted on women who have feared for their lives,” Centacare’s Brigitte McLennan said.

“Police and magistrates seem to be aware of the increased risk for victims of strangulation and their responses are supporting the change in legislation.

“We’ve also worked hard with training at Centacare to make sure we can assist our clients.

“But some of our clients have been to doctors or they have seen nurses who haven’t believed that they have been strangled, as they had no visible signs or injuries. That has made it difficult for them as they try to get protection to remain safe from further abuse.

“There needs to be a wider education on these signs to look for with strangulation. We know that strangulation does increase the risks of homicide so it’s very important that anyone involved in assisting domestic violence victims has the proper education.”

In 2014, the University of Queensland’s Heather Douglas and Robin Fitzgerald published a paper that analysed strangulation in domestic violence and the subsequent legal responses.   

Professor Douglas and Dr Fitzgerald wrote that: “Even where there are no visible injuries, some victims have died as long as several weeks after the attack as a result of brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen during the strangulation”.

Ms McLennan said the Red Rose Foundation, which works to end domestic violence-related deaths, had provided thorough training to the domestic violence sector including Centacare counsellors on the signs and consequences of strangulation.

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