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New tool in fight against domestic violence

In Pennsylvania, victims of domestic violence may be threatened with a weapon or subject to other physical abuse. A new law was approved in late October that addresses a common form of abuse against victims, helps close a legal loophole in prosecuting this abuse and provides additional enforcement tools to police.

Strangulation is now an independent criminal offense in the state. The new law criminalizes a person applying pressure to the victim's throat or neck or blocking the victim's nose and throat. Violations are punishable as a misdemeanor offense.

However, aggravating factors may elevate this crime to a felony. These factors include the victim being a member of the family or household, the offender was under a protection from abuse order relating to the victim or the perpetrator had a previous conviction for this offense.

Strangulation is a particularly vicious type of assault, according to police and medical experts. It may be life-threatening and cause psychological harm. Victims often lapse in and out of consciousness and face the uncertainty and terror of continued violence when they regain consciousness.

The victim often intimately knows the offender. Because there are usually no visible injuries though, strangulation cases were difficult to prosecute. This assault, nonetheless, was often a sign that the offender could engage in more severe violence, even murder.

Pennsylvania joined at least 30 other states that enacted this type of law. It was originally drafted by a victims' advocate in Chester County. The bill was passed with overwhelming support by a vote of 184-3 in the House and a unanimous 50-0 vote in the Senate. Governor Wolf signed the bill on Oct. 26.

Numerous laws are designed help protect domestic assault victims. Prompt legal representation can help assure that victims and their families receive these protections.

Source: The Times Herald, "New Pennsylvania law makes strangulation a free-standing crime," Oct. 28, 2016

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