When it comes to physical abuse, there are few actions, on their own, that are as lethal as the act of strangulation. Strangulation is most commonly associated with or referred to as “choking”, but they are both very different. Choking is caused by a foreign body obstructing the airway, such as with food or a small object. Strangulation, on the other hand, is the obstruction of blood vessels and/or air passages in the neck, resulting in asphyxia, by way of external force. In other words, “choking” is usually an accidental occurrence; strangulation is the deliberate act meant to terrorize.
Per Colorado law, specifically CRS 18-3-203(i), strangulation is an act of assault in the 2nd degree defined as:
A person commits the crime of assault in the second degree if, with intent to cause bodily injury, he or she applies sufficient pressure to impede or restrict breathing or circulation of the blood of another person by applying such pressure to the neck or by blocking the nose or mouth of the other person and thereby causes bodily injury.
Colorado is among 48 states, 20 tribes, and 2 U.S. Territories that have felony strangulation laws on the books. There are also federal and military codes regarding strangulation.
But why is strangulation so serious, you may ask?
Strangulation is often referred to as an act that takes victims to “the edge of homicide”. The act of non-fatal strangulation increases the risk of homicide that the victim faces by 750%; the victim is nearly 8 times more likely to end up dead at the hands of their abuser after strangulation occurred. What’s worse, a victim may survive the immediate incident(s) of strangulation, but could die from their injuries or related complications days, weeks, or even years later. Going even beyond the lethality faced by the original strangulation victim, there are studies that have linked perpetrators with a history of domestic violence, including and particularly strangulation, to being more likely to murder law enforcement officers and be mass shooters. Such perpetrators include the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, who had previously committed the act of strangulation on multiple partners.
Strangulation takes 5-10 seconds to render the victim unconscious, and 4-5 minutes to cause brain death. This is due to asphyxiation, which is the process of being deprived oxygen. It takes 4 pounds of pressure to block the jugular vein, preventing deoxygenated blood from leaving the brain; it takes 6 pounds of pressure to pull the trigger of a gun. It takes 11 pounds of pressure to block the carotid artery, preventing oxygenated blood from reaching the brain; it takes 20 pounds of pressure to open a can of soda. It takes 33 pounds of pressure to block the trachea, which restricts breathing; the average handshake applies about 80-100 pounds of pressure.
A struggle that strangulation victims can face is that immediate injuries from such an attack are not always apparent. Only in half of all reported cases do victims have visible signs of strangulation, and only 15% of that may be photographed. Signs and symptoms of strangulation can be both internal and external. Examples of external signs (injuries that can be observed by the victim, law enforcement, or a medical professional) can include:
- petechiae (little red dots) on the eyeball, eyelid, face, scalp, and ears,
- bruising around the neck, mouth, and chest or behind the ears,
- swollen tongue or face,
- defensive scratches (from where the victim was trying to remove their batterer’s hands from around their neck or face), and
- stroke-like facial or eyelid drooping.
Symptoms (things that may not always be outwardly observed, but can be described by the victim) can include:
- difficulty swallowing,
- loss of memory,
- extremity weakness,
- difficulty breathing, and
- loss of sensation.
It is important to document the signs and symptoms you experience as they occur, and to seek medical treatment as soon as possible, even if you do not notice any signs or symptoms immediately. It can sometimes take hours or days for these signs and symptoms to manifest, and some signs and symptoms may be difficult for a victim to see or recognize without a medical professional’s assistance.
If you have been strangled, or are aware of a friend or loved one who has been strangled, support and education are critical! Contact AVRC Staff 24/7 for more information and support.
415 Colorado Avenue
La Junta, CO 81050
24 Hour Hotline: (719) 384-7764
TTY: (719) 384-1938
After Hours Colorado Relay dial 711 or 1-800-659-2656
Statistics and information regarding strangulation provided by:
The Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention
AVRC is non-discriminatory agency regarding race, religion, color, gender, country of national origin, sexual orientation, mental health status, substance use or economic condition.