O’Sullivan Davies Lawyers Partner Andrew Davies today welcomed the proposed law reforms that includes making non-fatal strangulation a stand-alone crime that carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison, as reported in The West Australian on 27 November 2019.
“Last month we held a professional development seminar about domestic violence and the effects of non-fatal strangulation, and the statistics are alarming,” Mr Davies said.
“Not only are non-fatal strangulation victims seven times more likely to be killed by their intimate partner, but more than half of them go undetected and don’t show any signs or symptoms. Sometimes symptoms such as brain damage isn’t apparent until two or three weeks later.
“It’s important that family lawyers and indeed all those working with domestic violence victims including police, social workers, medical staff and others ask the right questions to ascertain if non-fatal strangulation has occurred - it’s a red flag that should be acted upon immediately as an indicator of potential increased violence.
“Not only is the future risk of homicide significantly increased, but the health implications can be serious and permanent – it can lead to stroke.”
Doctor Debbie Smith from King Edward Memorial Hospital gave an informative presentation in the O’Sullivan Davies office about non-fatal strangulation citing that strangulation is not always used to kill a partner but often used as a sign to let the victim know that the perpetrator could kill them very easily.
In the USA, past history of non-fatal strangulation was present in 43 per cent of completed homicides by an intimate partner. There is no published Australian data on non-fatal strangulation prevalence.
“At the moment, non-fatal strangulation is under-recognised and minimised, the introduction of the proposed legislation will counter that and it’s one that we welcome,” Mr Davies said.
“The unfortunate but very real statistic is that one in four women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime and ten per cent of these women will experience near-fatal strangulation by their partner.”
In data collected from WA refuges, Safe at Home services, Domestic Family Violence outreach services and the Central Referral Service in 2018 from 530 new clients who had experienced non-fatal strangulation showed that 86 per cent of victims had experienced non-fatal strangulation in the past 12 months including 11 pregnant women and two holding a baby at the time. The victims were mothers to 1,123 children, the oldest victim was 71 years of age and the youngest an eight-month old baby. Only 52 per cent of these victims showed visible injuries of non-fatal strangulation.
“It’s an unfortunate fact that domestic violence is something family lawyers deal with on a regular basis, so equipping lawyers with information from experts like Doctor Debbie Smith is something we value highly, in fact, I don’t know of any other family law firm that holds education sessions with its peers,” Mr Davies said.
Mr Davies said that actively contributing to the industry is a key value at O’Sullivan Davies Lawyers and is demonstrated by inviting other firms to attend professional development sessions.
About Doctor Debbie Smith
Dr Debbie Smith is a Fellow of the Faculty of Clinical Forensic Medicine of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia and is currently completing a Masters in Forensic Medicine at Monash University. She over 17 years’ experience as a Senior Medical Practitioner at the Sexual Assault Resource Centre in Perth and over this time, Debbie has provided medical and forensic care to adolescents and adults after recent sexual assault, many relating to intimate partner violence. She has co-authored the SARC medical forensic manual, provides under-graduate and post-graduate education and appears as an expert witness in court in sexual assault cases. Debbie helped develop the SARC clinical database and has published research on genital and general body injury in sexual assault, the use of early forensic evidence kits and non-fatal strangulation in sexual assault.