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A common form of abuse: Strangulation

If someone puts pressure on your neck and tries to cut off your airway, making it hard for you to breathe, is that person choking you or are you being strangled?

Is there really a difference between the two - to choke or to strangle?

Yes, according to Susan Keehn, advocate at Someplace Safe in Alexandria.

And yes, according to the dictionary.

The definition of strangle is to squeeze or constrict the neck of a person or animal, so as to cause death. An example: "The victim was strangled with a scarf."

The definition of choking is having severe difficulty in breathing because of constricted or obstructed throat or lack of air. The example given: "Willie choked on a mouthful of soda."

Keehn said that choking happens when food gets lodged in the throat or liquid "goes down the wrong pipe," causing an inability to breathe.

Strangulation, on the other hand, is suffocation or asphyxia. It is pressure purposely put on the neck or windpipe, causing someone to have a lack of oxygen, said Keehn.

"Strangulation is more common than we are aware of because of what we consider strangulation," she noted. "About half of the strangulations reported don't show any obvious markings."

And, Keehn stressed, strangulation doesn't mean the person has to die.

A person who has been strangled may just blackout and not remember what happened. The person could also end up with mild or severe brain damage, depending on how long he/she was strangled.

Keehn explained that it only takes eight to 11 pounds of pressure on the throat for about 10 seconds for a person to lose consciousness.

Within 30 seconds or longer, the person could end up with temporary or permanent brain damage.

Signs that a person may have been strangled, which are not that obvious, include a raspy or throaty sounding voice, swelling of the neck or throat area, red spots on the face, neck or in the eyes, difficulty swallowing or loss of memory.

Obvious signs are bruising or red marks on the neck or throat area, she said.

When most people think of strangulation, they think of a person using their hands or maybe a piece of rope, but Keehn said it can happen with a piece of clothing or even jewelry, such as a necklace.

"Strangulation can be lethal and it is life threatening," she said. "People need to become more educated on what strangulation is because sometimes it can be difficult to prosecute."

However, starting in August of 2005, strangulation in Minnesota became a felony-level crime instead of a misdemeanor.

This helps, said Keehn, but strangulation is a type of abuse that often doesn't have any evidence, such as when a person is physically or sexually abused.

With strangulation, she said, victims and those close to them, should document what happened - the details of the event.

Victims should contact law enforcement immediately and describe or even show by using hand gestures what happened.

If victims think they blacked out, they need to let authorities know that. They should also provide details about the abuser's behavior. Additionally, if family and friends talk with a victim and think his/her voice has changed, authorities should be made aware of that because an officer isn't going to know what the victim's voice sounds like on a regular basis.

"Every little detail is going to help," she said. "If we, as a crisis center, or family and friends, can help victims describe what happened, the more details, the better."

In addition, Keehn stressed that victims of strangulation should seek the medical attention that is needed.

In Minnesota, from 2006 to 2008, at least six women were strangled to death and at least two children were strangled to death.

"It's serious," Keehn stated. "I don't think people really understand the seriousness of it."


The most apparent forms of domestic violence include physical and sexual assault. However, regular use of other abusive behaviors, such as intimidation, isolation and economic abuse, make up a larger system of abuse. Here is a look at other forms of abuse and what they may include:

Coercion and threats - Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt a victim. Threatening to leave, commit suicide or report the victim to authorities. Making victims drop charges. Making victims do illegal things.

Intimidation - Making victims afraid by using looks, actions and/or gestures. Smashing things. Destroying personal property. Abusing pets. Displaying weapons.

Emotional abuse - Putting victims down with negative comments. Making victims feel bad about themselves. Calling names. Making victims think they are going crazy. Playing mind games. Using humiliation. Making victims feel guilty or telling them things are their fault.

Isolation - Controlling what victims do, who they see, whom they talk to and even, what they read and where they go. Limiting outside involvement. Using jealousy to justify actions.

Minimizing, denying and blaming - Making light of the abuse and not taking concerns about it seriously. Saying the abuse didn't happen. Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior. Saying the other person caused it or it was their fault.

Using children - Making victims feel guilty about the children. Using children to relay messages. Using visitation as a form of harassment. Threatening to take the children away.

Economic abuse - Preventing victims from getting or keeping a job. Making victims ask for money. Giving an allowance. Taking money away from a victim. Not letting victims know about or have access to family income.

Male privilege - Treating victims like a servant. Making all the decisions. Acting like the "master of the castle." Being the one to define roles of both parties involved.