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NJ Domestic Violence Spotlight: Strangulation as a Precursor to Homicide

man grips woman's shoulder

Strangulation is a criminal act, though hugely under-reported in the context of domestic violence. If someone in your life has harmed you in this way, a restraining order can be one of the first steps toward protecting yourself. Our domestic violence attorneys can help.

Intimate partner violence is a long-standing, widespread problem affecting 1 in 4 women in the U.S. and 1 in 9 men. It was tragically spotlighted with the globally-followed disappearance of #vanlife cross-country traveler Gabby Petito. Her death in the Wyoming Grand Tetons has now been ruled homicide by strangulation. Her remains were found in mid-September, weeks after her boyfriend and fellow traveler Brian Laundrie returned to Florida in her van without her.

Reports of alleged domestic violence involving Petito and Laundrie have been widely circulated and the source of endless speculation. As New Jersey domestic violence attorneys, we have long understood that non-fatal strangulation between intimate partners is a dire warning that the pattern of violence is on the brink of escalating to a fatal degree. Those who survive strangling by their spouse or partner in New Jersey should seek not only immediate medical attention but prompt legal advice on filing for temporary and permanent restraining orders.

According to the Journal of Emergency Medicine, non-fatal strangulation is a key predictor of domestic violence homicide. More than 1 in 4 women who identified themselves as being in abusive relationships said they had experienced non-fatal strangulation. It’s among the most under-reported of domestic violence crimes, but it’s also one of the most deadly, reported in more than 40 percent of attempted domestic violence homicides and 45 percent of actual domestic violence homicides.

This is part of the reason New Jersey passed a law not long ago enhancing the act of strangulation from a 3rd degree to 2nd degree crime, which carries more serious penalties.

What Exactly is Strangulation?

Strangulation is when airflow to the trachea is restricted, cutting off oxygen to the brain. It’s different than choking, which occurs as a result of some internal blockage.

The three primary types of strangulation are:

  • Manual. This is when someone uses their hands or another extremity to block the airflow to another person. This is sometimes called throttling.
  • Ligature. This is when someone uses something pliable like a wire or rope and wrap it tightly around the throat.
  • Hanging. This is when a rope or other device is used to suspend the person from the ground by the neck.

Most domestic violence strangulations are manual, though some involve ligature. Not all strangulation leaves an obvious lesion or abrasion on the neck, which can lead some victims to assume they won’t be believed if they report it. There are other physical and behavior signs for which police are trained to look. A prompt medical examination can help establish the victim’s account, which can be used in obtaining a temporary restraining order (TRO) and final restraining order (FRO) in New Jersey.

How Can I Obtain a New Jersey Restraining Order After Strangulation

You do not need to prove you were strangled in order to obtain a restraining order against the person who attacked you. However, such evidence can significantly bolster your case.

Temporary restraining orders are intended to provide immediate protection by swiftly blocking any contact between the attacker/abuser and the victim. TROs can include numerous provisions specific to your circumstances, but often require the accused abuser to refrain from any contact and to keep a certain distance away from the survivor’s home, workplace, school, or other location. If children are involved, a temporary visitation schedule may stipulate safe pickup and drop-off locations - or parenting time may be paused, depending on the circumstances.

Ex-parte temporary restraining orders can be issued immediately if the Judge deems it necessary to protect your life, health, or well-being. “Ex-parte” means they don’t need to hear the accused’s side of the story. Strictly speaking, you aren’t required to have an attorney for this, but it can help you to make a stronger case. As East Brunswick family law attorneys, we understand the legal requirements the Judge is examining when making these determinations. If a TRO is granted, it will remain in place immediately until the FRO hearing, usually within 10 days.

Once you have a TRO in hand, law enforcement has the authority to remove the abuser from your shared residence and to take the person into custody if the order is violated.

At the final restraining order hearing, you will both need to appear and testify before the Court. This is often very difficult for victims of intimate partner violence. It is highly recommended that you work with an experienced domestic violence attorney to help you navigate the process and advocate on your behalf.

Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.