The Institute for Addressing Strangulation has just published its ‘Report into Strangulation, Suffocation, Asphyxiation and Smothering Homicides in England and Wales from 2011 to 2021’. The findings show the extent and seriousness of the crime.
Report into strangulation
Domestic abuse will affect one in four women and one in six men in their lifetime. It accounts for 16% of all violent crime and has more repeat victims than any other crime. The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) notes that strangulation is a common factor reported by survivors of domestic abuse and is often used to instil fear and control. Strangulation and asphyxiation are also the second most common means of killing in female homicide cases. This is a conspicuously gendered crime.
The legislation follows cases highlighted by the CWJ and others where women were strangled (some fatally) by their partners as a form of domestic abuse and the low prison sentences imposed. For example, Ellie Gould was strangled to death and stabbed 13 times back in 2019, but her murderer only received a minimum sentence of 13 years.
The Domestic Abuse Act became law in 2021. Section 70 lists non-fatal strangulation and states that it’s an offence to “intentionally strangle another person” and to “affect their ability to breathe”. Restricting air supply during sex can be a consensual activity but a consensual defence cannot be used when there was intention to cause harm or the pressure applied was reckless. Fatal strangulation is subject to other legislation.
As a result of the legislative changes, the Home Office funded Institute for Addressing Strangulation was created to centralise efforts to research the crime, identify trends and find solutions. They have just published a report called ‘Report into Strangulation, Suffocation, Asphyxiation and Smothering Homicides in England and Wales from 2011 to 2021’.
Key statistics on strangulation homicides
The data shows:
- 342 strangulation homicides from 2011 to 2021
- 75% of victims were female
- Female victims aged 16 or over were 54 times more likely to have been killed by an ex-partner or partner than a male victim
- Of those victims aged 16 or older, the suspect was male in 96% of domestic cases
- 86% of females were fatally strangled in a house
- Female victims of strangulation homicide were most commonly aged between 25 and 34, whereas male victims were most commonly in the 35-44 age category
- Victims in 25% of strangulation homicides from 2011 to 2021 were male and they were most likely to have been strangled by a friend or acquaintance
- Where the victim was aged under 16, the gender of the suspect was more evenly distributed (11 male suspects and ten female suspects).
Most commonly, women are strangled by their male partner. There is very little specific information about male victims.
A 2014 paper titled ‘A Systematic Review of the Epidemiology of Nonfatal Strangulation, a Human Rights and Health Concern’, stated that it takes just 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of pressure to block jugular veins and 5 to 11 pounds (2.3 – 5 kg) of pressure to block carotid arteries. A suitably strong individual is perfectly capable of this. It takes no more than 15 seconds to lose consciousness and a matter of minutes to lose your life.
Crime and punishment
Another aspect of the report is a breakdown of the cases by police authority.
The Metropolitan Police has the highest number but in the West Midlands the rate per head of population is higher.
I contacted the Metropolitan Police and they said “there is nothing for us to add to this” while Humberside Police (eight reported cases) said:
“Whilst the numbers of homicides and suicides linked to strangulation in our area remain low, we recognise that even one death where this is a factor is too many.
“Policing alone is not enough to prevent people from becoming victims or perpetrators and we continue to work with partners to raise awareness that violence will not be tolerated.
“We are absolutely committed in keeping our communities safe whilst holding those to account who choose to be involved in this type of offending.”
What more needs to be done?
“We recommend better recording and categorisation of ONS [Office for National Statistics] data related to strangulation and suffocation homicides which in turn will help increase awareness and understanding of the range of people who may become a victim of strangulation and suffocation homicide.”Dr Gemma McKenzie – author of the report
The report has the following recommendations, which also touch on some wider concerns:
- More research into why (in the case of male victims) the suspect is more likely to be a friend or acquaintance
- Most strangulation homicides occur in some form of dwelling, but those that take place elsewhere need further investigation. This could lead to other factors being revealed (e.g. sex work or deaths in custody)
- ONS statistics have a category of ‘Other’ relating to the relationship between victim and suspect. A breakdown of this could help to identify trends and support needs
- The ONS should reconsider the use of ‘quarrel, revenge or loss of temper’ as a suitable descriptor for intimate partner violence homicides. Improved terms mean greater clarity
- More work needs to be done to explore the cultural heritage of victims of strangulation homicides beyond a very basic reflection of ethnicity
- As some cases involve mothers committing infanticide, there needs to be investigation into the availability of support services.
Chances of change
Whilst the report from the Institute for Addressing Strangulation shows that the number of cases has gone up and down since 2011, it’s important to note that any cases at all should be a cause for concern.
There needs to be reform to the justice system. Certainly, the speed of processing these cases would help and more uniformity with the length of prison sentences could be reassuring. However, as the report shows, it’s vitally important to have accurate figures and comprehensive research first. Without that, no solution would be effective.