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Strangulation is a Misdemeanor?! (Part 1)

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Perhaps the single most glaring example of legislative discrimination currently on the books is Oregon House Bill 2770, which was originally set to make strangulation a felony. It was stripped of this provision ostensibly “because of the cost.” It is a mere misdemeanor to strangle someone, so long as they eventually regain consciousness.


Nine percent of strangling victims are women and strangulation is the method by which 75 percent of all women that are murdered die. Strangulation is the single biggest predicting factor of future homicidal behavior. It is attempted murder, and must be treated as such. To do otherwise is not only short sighted, but ends being far costlier in the long run.


The devastation of this bill is compounded by the fact that if the woman whom the man has strangled picks up a gun or knife to defend herself against her abuser, she is then charged with a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of between seven to twenty-five years. The legislature did not think it too expensive to spend between $250,000 and $750,000 (more if she has children who end up in foster care-and this is not even counting the cost of prosecution, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars) to incarcerate the women who defend themselves and their children. A man who nearly kills her will frequently not spend a day in jail.


The policy of selective incarceration is currently in effect in Oregon and fifteen other states which do not have self-defense laws for battered women. Thirty-four states do. Oregon has a mandatory minimum sentence for crimes of violence, know here as Measure 11.


In Oregon, the Police banned the use of the carotid artery hold in 1985 after someone died in a police choke-hold. The police say: “In our organization, we consider it deadly physical force.” So, while the police themselves consider strangulation “deadly force,” men who perpetrate it against women in a domestic violence situation are not charged with commission of a deadly crime. Instead, women are left to face their attackers alone.


The Salem (Oregon) Statesman Journal published an article in 2002 which noted that up to 80 percent of women sentenced under the measure 11 statute were victims of domestic violence who fought back at their abusers. The women typically resorted to drastic measures as a last resort, after law enforcement failed, and only when their lives had been threatened or their children were in danger.


This may also account for the low recidivism rate in Oregon. There is virtually a 0 percent recidivism rate among women who have finally killed an abuser to escape. Zero. Most states don’t incarcerate these women, and the fact that Oregon does skews the statistics. It doesn’t point to successful rehabilitation so much as it highlights the fact that these people don’t belong in prison in the first place.


Thomas Jefferson said “Self defense is the most fundamental right upon which the rest of the constitution rests.” Malcolm said “Self-defense isn’t violence, it’s intelligence.”


Recently there has been a lot of public debate about a teacher in Medford who carried a concealed weapon to school after her ex-husband, who had previously violated a restraining order, threatened to kill her. Many of the editorial comments centered on whether the teacher should leave her job to protect her students, “at least until the danger is over” (And when might that be? Over 1500 women and children are killed every year in circumstances similar to these.)


It was never even noted that the obvious solution was to imprison the man who threatened to kill his family, thereby putting the blame on the perpetrator, and not harming his victim with the loss of her job or living in constant fear for her safety. That would ensure her pupils’ safety as well. But men who batter are not made to shoulder responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Consequently, society tacitly tolerates battering and strangulation and terroristic threatening. Too frequently society shifts this burden to the women and children the batters terrorize.


The costs of NOT removing men who strangle their partners is ultimately far greater than the cost of enforcing a felony definition of strangling. There is always an emotional toll on the children forced to live in a concentration camp-mentality. Many of these children, suffer from severe PTSD, and statistically many will perpetuate the learned behaviors without serious intervention and counseling. Sometimes, the cost escalates weeks or months later, when the victim protects themselves with a weapon, after the State failed to protect them, and the state then pays to prosecute and incarcerate the (usually female) survivor. Calculate the cost of incarcerating someone for ten to twenty years and measure that against the cost of enforcing a felony strangulation law. Calculate the cost of special ed and therapy for the kids. And how do you measure up the generational costs of the kids who repeat the violent patterns they see in their own homes?


On occasion the cost is concrete and immediate. Such was the recent case of Crystal Brame. Crystal was the wife of Tacoma, WA. Police Chief David Brame. He battered her, and then tried to portray her as “unstable and violent.” As is typically the case, his colleagues covered up for him. Crystal Brame was defamed and called dishonest, abusive histrionic, unstable. She was portrayed as “making the whole thing up” and her accusations called “groundless.” After Police Chief Brame eventually killed her, the woman who had left him and was trying to divorce him, her family was paid nearly 4 million dollars by the city of Tacoma.


Strangulation is the single most obvious identifying predictor of future homicidal behavior in a batterer. Strangulation is the method by which 75 percent of women are killed. Oregon prison guard Robert Stamper had strangled his girlfriend, but had been released. He then went on to kidnap, rape and strangle a teen age girl, and then partially buried her in the woods. She regained consciousness, dragged herself to the road and told police about her attacker. He thought he had killed her. He later said “I was mad at my girlfriend and wanted to hurt a woman.” Charging men with attempted murder and locking them up when they first strangled someone would have prevented their subsequent horrors. The Green River killer and Ted Bundy favored strangulation.


Restraining orders have proven to be no deterrent to an enraged abuser, and time after time, after time after time after time, when a man who has threatened to kill his family (most often AFTER his partner has left him) follows through, it is always treated “as a shock” by the authorities.


Up to 50 percent of the children who are homeless today are fleeing domestic violence. Women who are battered make up 30 percent of emergency room visits. Lost work time due to domestic violence has been estimated to cost the US work force hundreds of million dollars every year. Many domestic violence victims subsequently suffer from depression and other mental illness as a result of the abuse. Locking up mothers of young children who protect them is far more costly than locking up the men who have threatened their lives, so the disingenuousness of the legislature must be examined.


One of the reasons Oregon law enforcement does not take strangling seriously is that 40 percent of law enforcement officers are batterers themselves. (It’s about 25 percent in the general population.) The Assistant Superintendent of Coffee Creek prison was arrested for battering, and yet, he sits in his office today. Law enforcement officers have been sued for firing female officers who filed domestic violence complaints, and the men who had the courage to tell the truth about these incidents have been fired for not sticking to the code of silence which allows battering to remain a part of our society.


Battering is widespread. It is not limited to pimps and drug dealers and out-of-work blue collar workers, as the common stereotype seems to expect. There have been many documented cases in professional fields. Ministers, Airline Pilots, Hospital Chief of Staffs, Therapists, Surgeons, Judges, Teachers, Entertainers, even Lawyers. (In my own case, even the defense attorney who was supposed to represent me had been arrested for domestic violence—a fact I did not know when he was hired.) Yet, despite the presence of battering in nearly all walks of life, nowhere is battering so prevalent as in the “men-in-uniform” professions, i.e. the police and military.


Reporter Tiffany Edwards explained this phenomenon:


“Several studies have found that 40 percent of police officers families experience domestic violence, and when it comes to men in uniform, arrests for domestic violence are not being made. This is especially true of a guy who is popular with his co-workers.” See also: http://www.womenandpolicing.org/violenceFS.asp


Penny Harrington, retired Oregon police chief points out, that “after a woman reports an incident of domestic violence and nothing is done, she loses faith in the system and gets beaten up for reporting it. These men know how to make her look like it’s all her fault, that she’s a mental case or a sexually free woman. The abuser will find a way to maker her like she’s the problem, (often with the help of his family and co-workers.) If a woman tries to escape, he will be able to track her down. Assuming a different identity is the only way to escape.”


(Part 1)? Part 2

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