Hundreds of domestic violence program and sexual assault center staff, members of law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, survivors of violence, and concerned community members from across the state converged on the Georgia State Capitol today to urge legislators to pass House Bill 911 to make strangulation assault a felony offense. House Bill 911 was the focus of today’s Stop Violence Against Women Day, an annual event to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault in Georgia. Mary Kay, Inc., which provides financial support to organizations in Georgia and throughout the country that work to end violence against women, served as the primary sponsor for the event.
Strangulation – often referred to as “choking” – is a highly dangerous form of assault used by those who abuse their partners. Using as little as four pounds of pressure, abusive partners stop the flow of blood through the victim’s brain, causing brain damage in a matter of seconds and unconsciousness and death within minutes.”Victims who survive a strangulation assault frequently describe it as a near-death experience,” says Jan Christiansen, Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It’s an abuser’s way of letting a victim know, ‘I could kill you if I wanted to.’ It’s a powerful way of making a victim feel trapped.”
“Victims who survive a strangulation assault frequently describe it as a near-death experience,” says Jan Christiansen, Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It’s an abuser’s way of letting a victim know, ‘I could kill you if I wanted to.’ It’s a powerful way of making a victim feel trapped.”
According to a recent survey, over 44 percent of victims served by Georgia’s state-certified domestic violence programs have been strangled. This statistic is particularly alarming in light of research showing that victims of prior attempted strangulation are eight times more likely to be killed by the same abuser. Georgia currently ranks 12th worst in the nation for the rate of women killed by men, according to the Violence Policy Center.
Prosecutors indicate that House Bill 911, which explicitly defines strangulation within Georgia’s existing aggravated assault statute, will better enable them to successfully prosecute this crime, seek a sentence that reflects the seriousness of this offense, and hopefully help to reduce the number of domestic violence homicides in Georgia.
However, there is a public education that also needs to take place, according to Greg Loughlin, Executive Director of the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.
“Passing a law to make strangulation assault a felony, as 37 other states have already done, will save lives in Georgia,” says Loughlin. “We also want to raise public awareness about the dangers of strangulation and how to help, including the signs to alert you to advise immediate medical attention. When a person puts their hands around someone’s neck, only bad things can happen.”
Christiansen also urges victims of strangulation or other violence at the hands of an intimate partner to contact Georgia’s 24-hour statewide domestic violence hotline at 1-800-334-2836 to talk to an advocate at one of Georgia’s 46 state-certified domestic violence programs about how they can plan for their safety and to learn about services in their community.
Based on recent service statistics of these domestic violence programs and of the 22 state-funded sexual assault programs, it is clear that victims are reaching out and that the need is great. From October 2012 through September 2013, Georgia’s 46 state-certified domestic violence programs provided services to over 29,779 victims and their children and answered nearly 58,955 crisis calls. During that same time period, Georgia’s 22 state-funded sexual assault programs served 3,944 victims of rape and sexual assault, including 1,668 child victims, and answered over 8,013 crisis calls.
However, there are many areas of unmet need for victims, according to Jennifer Bivins, Executive Director of the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault. Due to a lack of adequate funding, victims in 53 of Georgia’s 159 counties have little or no access to the services of a sexual assault center.
“We appreciate that our state legislators and the Governor have shown a commitment to maintaining stable state funding for these critical services during the recent recession,” says Bivins. “Unfortunately, though, the state funding allocated to sexual assault centers is not enough to maintain even the most basic services to victims of rape and sexual assault across our state. Many of our centers are on the brink of closing their doors.”
Domestic violence programs are also facing greater demand than they can accommodate, particularly when victims need shelter. Between October 2012 and September 2013, they were forced to turn away about 4,612 victims and their children due to lack of available bed space.
“Stop Violence Against Women Day gives us a chance to talk with legislators about these unmet needs, to ask for needed changes to our laws to improve victim safety, and to share the incredible, life-saving work these programs do with their constituents,” says Christiansen.
To find a domestic violence program near you, call Georgia’s 24-Hour Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline – 1.800.33.HAVEN (1.800.334.2836) (Voice/TTY)
To find a sexual assault center near you, visit www.gnesa.org or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1.800.656.HOPE (1.800.656.4673)
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