Strangulation: The Red Flag Of Domestic Violence That We Never Discuss

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 

When we think about domestic violence, we often think of broken limbs, bruises, or even a black eye. But there’s a form of domestic violence assault that we don’t talk about enough, and it’s the most deadly form of domestic violence — strangulation.

According to Joni E. Johnston, Psy. D, “Batterers who strangle their victim are more likely to engage in other extreme acts of violence; it’s a message that there are no limits to which he won’t go. The odds are, he’s willing to kill,” she writes in Psychology Today.

When we think strangulation, we think bruises around the neck, or fingerprints, scratches, etc., but sometimes the signs of strangulation are less obvious. Johnston notes that more than half of the time, signs of strangulation aren’t visible. Some of those symptoms include hoarseness and/or a sore throat, not being able to swallow or experiencing discomfort doing so, and shortness of breath. The victims may potentially have lapses in their memory as well. Incontinence (losing control of the bowels or bladder), loss of hearing, and mood changes are also less obvious signs of strangulation.

Author Stephanie Land is one of the women who have experienced non-deadly strangulation at the hands of her partner. Her ex-husband, Matt Boland, was arrested on a strangulation felony, one of the first in Montana. But while Land called the police and had him arrested, she chose to stay quiet about her abuse for a long time.

“I was embarrassed. I wanted to keep living out this fantasy perfect relationship thing I had created on social media,” she explains. “Even though there were red flags, I wasn’t sure. I was like, ‘he seems committed and he really wants to do this.’ And so I was like: ‘this is fine.’”

But things weren’t even remotely fine. After the arrest, a no contact order was issued. But the couple chose to break it. When she and Boland began talking again, he tried to make her believe that the strangulation was her fault. “He immediately started telling me, ‘I was trying to calm you down.’ That’s why he was holding me down to the bed by my neck,” she says with an ironic laugh.

“He said, ‘I was trying to get you to settle down.’ He just kept saying, ‘because you were just so crazy, I just had to restrain you.’ I kind of believed him in that moment.”

After several months of trips to court and conversations with lawyers, Boland moved back in with Land and her two daughters. He legally adopted Land’s younger daughter. However, breaking the no contact order was haunting him, and the charges of felony strangulation hung over him like a black cloud. His increasing paranoia took a further toll on Land’s already fragile mental health. The paranoia led her to believe that it was only a matter of time before he hurt her again, and maybe this time it’d be deadly. Finally, after months of stress and fighting, she asked Boland to leave for good.

Arman Zhenikeyev/Getty

Knowing what he’s capable of, Stephanie tries to warn any women who may come in contact with Boland. She’s even reaching out to women directly to tell them what he did to her. Her refusal to stay quiet ultimately saved her life, and she’s aware it may save someone else.

In an article for the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, a 2008 study from the Journal of Emergency Medicine is cited. The study found that 43 percent of women who were murdered in domestic assaults, and 45 percent of the victims of attempted murder, had been strangled by their partner within the year before.

As the National Domestic Violence Hotline website points out, there isn’t a more potentially deadly form of domestic violence than strangulation. You can lose consciousness within seconds of strangulation, and death can happen in minutes. If you’re lucky enough to survive being strangled, the odds of your partner doing it again are ten times higher. And even if you survive non-deadly strangulation, the effects can certainly be permanent.

Johnston notes that women in domestic violence shelters are reporting multiple strangulation attempts by their partners. But because the signs aren’t always visible, many health care providers and law enforcement officers overlook them. Now things are changing because of the training. Additionally, there’s no data showing that the amount of non-deadly strangulations is becoming more frequent; however, the amount of felony charges for strangulation has quadrupled in the last six years.

This is because police are sending victims to highly trained professionals for proper assessment. They’re asking strangulation victims the right kind of questions: how they were strangled, and if there were previous threats made. They’re also asking about any prior physical assault that wasn’t strangulation, which is important to be aware of. Finding out how many times there has previously been either threat of violence or an assault is also a crucial part of the assessment.

Recently, there was a large case study on domestic violence-related strangulation. Ultimately, the study found that domestic violence strangulation is a significant predictor of attempted and completed murder. If you want to look at the numbers end of things, it statistically increases the odds by seven. Non-deadly strangulation is, without a doubt, an indication that the person isn’t against the idea of killing their partner.

Knowing the likelihood of completed murder via strangulation is important for domestic violence victims to know. But it’s also important for everyone to know — because we never know when we may be in a position where we need to help a friend or family member get out of an abusive relationship. According to Psychology Today, 20% of the victims of domestic violence homicide are the people who tried to help: friends, family, even law enforcement. If a man is willing to strangle his female partner to death, he’d kill anyone, even a cop.

Domestic violence-related strangulation is always a serious matter. Reporting it can be the difference between life and death. If your partner strangles you, call the police immediately. Or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233.)

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