MISSOULA - Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst calls it a historic day as a countywide strangulation protocol was signed by the multiple agencies tasked with protecting victims of domestic violent crime.
This protocol — the first of its kind in the state — took a year of training and planning, but now there are clear steps to respond, investigate and prosecute cases where someone is strangled.
The Missoula County Attorney's Office charged 191 cases involving interpersonal or family violence in 2021 and 25% of those involved strangulation, marking a 50% increase from 2019.
Pabst told MTN News strangulation should be considered one of the most serious forms of domestic violence because the victim is only seconds away from death at any time.
"Strangulation should be considered one of the most serious forms of domestic violence because we've learned the victim is only seconds away from death at any time.”
With the signing of this document, there is now a clear path on how all the agencies respond to a crime that for years was minimized. Strangulation is called the last warning shot before someone is murdered.
Montana lawmakers made it a felony to strangle a family member or intimate partner in 2017. This document assures victims they will be heard -- and helped.
“Strangulation occurs in approximately 68% of domestic violence abusive relationships. If strangulation occurs just one time, that individual has a 750% chance of being murdered by their abuser. That increases to 1,100% if that abuser has access to firearms.” - Missoula Police Detective Nathan Griesse
“Since strangulation is one of the most violent forms of domestic violence, this county-wide protocol will now give strangulation victims a better chance of survival by accessing and treating their life-threatening injuries,” noted forensic nurse examiner Cat Otway.
The protocol was developed and approved by the Missoula "Just Response," an organization that connects members of the justice system to respond to relationship violence, sexual violence and child abuse. The next step is training for first responders and medical personnel with the goal of preventing future homicides and empowering survivors to leave abusive relationships.
A person convicted of a first offense of strangulation of a partner or family member faces a fine up to a $50,000 fine and five years in prison. The penalties also increase the more times it happens.
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