New law increases penalty for strangulation

Alex Erb

Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law a bill that significantly increases the penalty for cases of domestic abuse that specifically involve strangulation.

The bill, which was introduced in January 2011, raises the maximum sentence of those convicted of strangling a domestic partner from 30 days to one year.

“The governor believes that the increased penalties for domestic abusers not only makes good law, but also brings common sense to the justice system,” said Tim Albrecht, communications director for Branstad.

However, Iowa is not the first state to pass this sort of legislation.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, the bill’s manager,  said Iowa is following a national trend to increase the penalties related to strangulation.

“The bill was introduced to address a growing recognition that this type of crime was out there,” Quirmbach said. “I think domestic violence is a serious crime, and because of the risk of death associated with strangulation, it should be treated even more severely.”

The bill defines strangulation as “knowingly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of another by applying pressure to the throat or neck, or by obstructing the nose or mouth,” and when strangulation results in bodily injury, it is treated as a class “D” felony.

The bill received overwhelming support from the House and Senate, passing both with only one dissenting vote.

“It’s refreshing to see common sense prevail,” said officer Joel Congdon of the Ames Police Department. “I’m surprised the penalty wasn’t increased even further.”

Congdon deals heavily with cases involving domestic abuse, and explained that the purpose of the law is to convey the seriousness of strangulation as a form of domestic abuse due to its lethality.

In 2011, Ames Police Departmen received 441 domestic calls for service and made 112 domestic related arrests. Congdon said these numbers are fairly standard but do not accurately represent the actual amount of abuse occurring.

He said that most abuse goes unreported because the victim is too scared or embarrassed to involve the police. Many times it is reported by a neighbor or family member and not the victim.

“The problem with domestic abuse isn’t the penalties for it, but how grossly underreported it is,” Congdon said.

This sentiment was echoed by Angie Schreck, the assistant director of ACCESS, which provides shelter and support to abuse victims and their children.

“Often the abuser is someone the victim relies on or has strong emotional ties with,” Schreck said. “Statistically, one in four women will be victims of domestic abuse, and strangulation isn’t an uncommon act in the progression of violence.”

Schreck went on to say that she felt the bill was a success and a necessary step in the right direction.

“Before, the victim might be afraid to report abuse because the abuser might only go to jail for a couple of days and then be right back on the victim’s doorstep.” Schreck said.

“Now when someone comes in and they say yes to the question ‘Did the abuser put their hands on your neck?’ and we talk about how to report the abuse, they will be more likely to take that next step,” she said.