Expert: Choking strongly predicts homicide

October 26, 2018 GMT

DeKALB – While two notable trials neared their end in the DeKalb County Courthouse on Thursday, State’s Attorney Rick Amato was addressing what he considers a serious issue in our community: choking in domestic violence cases.

About 40 people attended a training session hosted by Amato and Safe Passage, which outlined how local agencies can respond to reports of people choking another person. Materials provided by Amato show that one in four women will experience intimate partner violence, and that more than two-thirds of those victim will experience near-fatal choking.

“Our community deserves best practices, as well as the attention on such a lethally silent issue that we have to bring attention to and get help for those that can’t help themselves,” Amato said.

Representatives from local agencies including the DeKalb and Sycamore police departments, the Sycamore Fire Department and Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital learned what symptoms victims could show after they’ve been choked, including raspy voice, red eyeballs or difficulty speaking, as well as best practices in addressing those signs before it turns into a more serious issue such as a stroke.

Gael Strack, CEO of Alliance for HOPE International, led a discussion during the session at the DeKalb County Community Outreach Building on how the community can better streamline choking-related cases in the county through law enforcement, hospitals, the court system and victim advocacy groups.

Strack said choking is the most lethal form of domestic violence and has been long overlooked in domestic or sexual violence cases. She said victims who have been choked once are 750 percent more likely to be killed by their abusers, and that choking is considered a strong predictor of homicide.

“If communities like DeKalb focus on this issue, it can save lives,” Strack said.

Mary Ellen Schaid, executive director for local domestic violence agency and rape crisis center Safe Passage, said making resources more streamlined for victims hopefully will help them feel more comfortable in reporting those incidents. She also said offenders who choke their victims are dangerous and need to be held accountable.

“That’s the only way it’s going to stop,” Schaid said.

DeKalb police Cmdr. Steve Lekkas said he attended the training session, and that it was great to hear what experts had to say on best practices for addressing choking in domestic violence and sexual assault. Anecdotally speaking, he said, a rise has been noted in domestic violence calls in the community and that the police department has been seeing more related felony charges than usual.

Lekkas said he felt reassured that his department has felt been working with Amato and Safe Passage on recommendations issued at the training session, such as overseeing lethality assessments.

“Overall, we’re on the right track, and we can keep improving,” Lekkas said.