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New Jersey Passes Legislation to Elevate Strangulation Assault to a Second-Degree Crime

Strangulation is a crime of domestic violence assault and one of the strongest predictors for subsequent domestic violence homicide. Domestic violence is not a family issue, it’s a criminal issue that can affect anyone at any time. All too often, the perpetrators of this heinous crime against a spouse or partner get treated less severely than criminals who commit similar acts against strangers. And the reasons behind the more lenient sentencing are truly staggering.

New Jersey Boosts Consequences For Strangulation Assault

In efforts to better protect victims of domestic violence crimes, New Jersey has put forth stricter consequences for strangulation assault. In July, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law a bipartisan bill (A4588/S2503) that elevates the consequences of assault by strangulation from a third degree to a second degree crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $150,000, or both. This legislation recognizes the seriousness of strangulation assault and gives prosecutors the tools necessary to hold people accountable for their actions.
The change comes only a few years after a 2017 amendment upgraded this offense to a third degree crime. New Jersey joins several other states in adding or upgrading strangulation offenses.

What Does This Mean For Domestic Violence Survivors?

For survivors of intimate partner violence, this is a big step forward in delivering protection and justice. A victim of domestic violence who survives a strangulation is seven times more likely to be killed by their abuser when compared to survivors who have never been strangled by an abusive partner. The facts and figures paint a very startling picture. A 2019 article in The Atlantic reported that 25% of women in the U.S. felt scared during sex, and 13% of sexually active girls from 14 to 17 had already been strangled.

What Are The Loopholes?

A continued goal of anti-domestic violence groups and advocates for domestic violence victims praised the enactment of the new law, yet know there’s much more work to be done. The fact remains that a disturbing loophole — the “rough sex defense” — protects many of the perpetrators.
The Rough sex murder defense is often cited by individuals accused of murdering a sexual partner. These defendants will claim that the death occurred because of injuries sustained during consensual sex resulting in a lesser charge, lighter sentence, acquittal or in some cases having the case dropped altogether. The “rough sex” defense to the charge of murder asserts that the victim literally “asked for” the conduct that led to the homicide and was the result of sexual practices to which the victim consented, and may have even demanded. Among certain subgroups, strangulation and choking are increasingly viewed as acceptable forms of “safe risk” sex play.

The Rough Sex defense became even more popularized in the much publicized 1986 New York “Preppie Murder” case when 18-year old Jennifer Levin who was dating Robert Chambers was found strangled. Chambers claimed that Levin’s death occurred accidentally during consensual “rough sex,” a plea that is often entertained as a viable defense.

Mainstream Media Plays A Massive Role

Today’s social and cultural norms are a big part of the growing problem. The normalization of rough sex in pop culture has contributed to violence against women. Pornography, women’s magazines and television play a big part in mainstraming rough sex including strangulation in sex play. “In certain relationships,” according to Fiona Mackenzie, founder of We Can’t Consent to This, “if you’re dating, rough sex is expected and if you don’t go along, you’re considered boring.”

The Law Office Of Michele Alcalde Can Help Victims of Domestic Violence Crimes

Domestic violence is the most common form of violence against women. Domestic violence is widespread, deeply ingrained in many cultures and has serious impacts on women’s health and well-being. As a society, we must ask the hard questions, delve deeper into the underlying causes and continue to find ways to strengthen laws against domestic violence.

If you or a loved one are involved in an abusive relationship or a victim of domestic violence, The Law Office of Michele Alcalde can help you find counseling, support services and advocacy for New Jersey victims and their families. It can be difficult to seek help — our caring and loyal staff are experienced in providing confidential support. Find us online or call us at 732.766.1407.

Posted in: Domestic Violence