Investigating Domestic Violence Strangulation: Lethality

Strangulation is a very grave form of battery in domestic violence. In a prior post, I described how to recognize the evidence of strangulation when investigating domestic violence calls. In this post, I hope to illustrate why it is so important to properly investigate strangulation cases.

Strangulation is simply cutting off the blood flow and/or the air flow by applying external pressure to the neck. Cut off fresh air (via the blood) to the brain, and brain death will occur.

Strangulation can be accomplished one of three ways: hanging, ligature, and manual. Hanging is typically found in suicides and auto-erotic asphyxia cases. Ligature is the use of a piece of rope, chain, or other material the strangle another person. Manual is the use of personal weapons, such as our hands and arms, to strangle another person.

Stopping the blood or air flow to the brain can be accomplished by occluding the carotid artery, the jugular vein, or the trachea. It takes about 11 pounds of pressure to occlude the carotid artery, and only about 4 pounds to occlude the jugular vein. You can easily generate that much pressure with a single finger.

Blocking the blood flow through the carotid artery or the jugular vein will render the victim unconscious in about 10 seconds. Even though the brain can survive up to four minutes without fresh oxygen, the research done by Dr. Luis Pena has shown that if the victim is strangled for 50 seconds past consciousness, they are past the point of no return, and death is a near certainty.

The trachea, on the other hand, is the point where air, not blood, flows. The trachea requires 33 pounds of pressure to fracture. However, a fractured trachea is a dire injury, and although treatable, death is probable outcome.

So, you get on scene, there are allegations of strangulation, but the victim appears to be fine. The danger of death has passed, right? Unfortunately, no.

Death from strangulation has been known to happen up to 36 hours after the attack. How? The neck is largely made up of muscles. The muscles, when wrenched during the strangulation attack, tend to tear and bruise, leading to swelling. This internal swelling applies pressure to the veins and artery, cutting off blood flow. Remember, it only takes about four pounds of pressure to occlude the jugular vein. Once blood flow is cut off, you only have 10 seconds before unconsciousness hits, and only 50 seconds beyond that before death becomes a near certainty.

If a victim says she has been strangled, strongly encourage them to seek medical assistance. While most refuse a ride in the ambulance, taking the time to explain the seriousness of the potential injuries may save their life.

Stay safe!

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Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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  • A.armsted

    my question is how hard is it if there’s no evidence but only allegations of strangulation to prove it?

    • Aaron

      Minus a witness, and with no physical evidence that is observable or identified by a medical professional, strangulation can be difficult to prove – much like many other persons crimes. For example, if a guy pushes another guy in an empty parking lot with no witnesses or surveillance cameras, it basically turns into differing statements situation, which likely will not result in prosecution.

      However, that doesn’t change the seriousness of the situation. The victim should make arrangements to be away from the attacker – family, friends, or shelter, possibly seek for a protection order, and likely end the relationship. It is that serious.