Domestic violence: Should strangulation be a felony?

The push continues in Columbus to impose harsher penalties on those who strangle a domestic partner.

News Center 7’s I-Team discovered that being strangled — even once — greatly increases a victim’s chance of being murdered.

Cheryl McHenry spoke to one Clark County woman who shared her survival story.

Jessica Roberts remembers the morning last year when her now former husband nearly killed her.

>> RELATED: Story of survival: Clark County woman shares domestic violence journey

“The pressure on my neck, it was just so quick,” she said. “And he had such a grip. I was out within three seconds.”

What she experienced is what domestic violence victims advocates are passionate about: making sure the public uses the right word — strangulation.

“When we talk to survivors we do say the word ‘choke’ because that’s what people are familiar with, but strangulation is really closing off the airway,” said Jane Keiffer, executive director of the Artemis Center.

Keiffer and others who help domestic violence victims have become increasingly alarmed at the incidents of strangulation — with compelling reason.

“We know if someone’s strangled in an intimate partner relationship they are seven times more likely to be a homicide,” she said.

Roberts said her ex-husband had strangled her once before in 2007.

“He had grabbed me by the throat with his hand,” she said. “Just not being able to breathe, I started panicking.”

Once he let go, she was left with redness and a bruise she could feel.

Strangulation signs do not always show up right away.

Bruising usually comes days later and victims can have bloody, red eyeballs, a drooping face or eyelid and changes to their voice and the ability to swallow.

And then there’s the psychological damage.

“I think that the abuser is send a very strong message that I control your life,” Keiffer said.

That’s exactly what Roberts’ husband did for the next 11 years, she said.

“It may not have been physical, but I wasn’t able to go places,” Roberts explained. “Financially, he didn’t want me working. And I knew what it was. I knew it was abuse.”

The next time her ex-husband strangled her was Sept. 20, 2018.

Roberts had moved out, but came back to their Springfield home to get some things out of the garage, believing he would not be there.

>> RELATED: Springfield man accused of assaulting wife competent to stand trial

“So when I walked in, the door swung open...and then the garage door slammed behind me and he was there,” she said.

Roberts tried to run, but he caught her.

“He had grabbed me from behind and he had choked me,” Roberts said.

She passed out quickly and when she came to, she was bleeding from where he’d slashed her throat with a knife.

Roberts was somehow able to drive to a gas station a mile away for help.

Surveillance video at the gas station showed her ex-husband chasing her.

Roberts’ story is just one example of why advocates support Senate Bill 146.

It would enhance how someone convicted of strangulation is treated under Ohio’s domestic violence law.

Right now, Ohio and South Carolina are the only two states that do not have felony strangulation statutes.

Under current Ohio law, a person convicted of strangling a spouse or family member could be charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and never go to jail.

But if the push to make it a felony goes through, a judge would give the person a mandatory prison term.

The Ohio Public Defender’s Office opposes the bill, saying that adequate laws already exist and that this proposal would waste taxpayer dollars by putting more people in prison than necessary.

“Unfortunately we think this bill is misguided,” said Nicole Clum of the Ohio Public Defender’s Office. “We think that money would be better spent on victim services and going straight to the victims of domestic abuse.”

Supports argue strangulation is so serious, it needs a clear, legal definition.

“Is it an assault? Is it attempted murder,” asked Keiffer. “I think there’s all these different things that people could label it as, but if we had a law that said ‘when this happens this is the outcome,’ it makes it much cleaner and more efficient.”

Roberts’ husband did go to prison.

He’s serving 11 years for attempted murder for cutting his wife’s throat.

But had he stopped after strangling her into unconsciousness, he might still be free today.

>> RELATED: Springfield man accused of slitting wife’s throat sentenced to 11 years

“I feel like strangulation, there’d be a lot less of it if there was more of a consequence.”

The bill to make strangulation a felony is pending before the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee.

New Center 7 will continue to follow its progress and whether or not it passes.

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