A high-profile strangulation case has put the prosecution of such charges in the spotlight.
Ex-WCBS 2 News anchor Rob Morrison will face charges of second-degree strangulation, second-degree threatening and disorderly conduct on Tuesday, March 26, for allegedly strangling his wife, Ashley, in a domestic dispute on Feb. 17.
If found guilty of second-degree strangulation charges, Morrison can face up to five years in prison.
There was a time, however, when police did not know how to charge someone who allegedly strangled a victim.
"When police showed up on a 911 call, they looked to see if strangulation was a crime," said Laurel Eisner, executive director of Sanctuary for Families Inc. in New York. "Is choking a crime? Is it a low-level assault?"
Strangulation and choking are two different actions. Choking internally blocks off someone's airway, while strangling a victim is done externally, such as with hands around a victim's throat.
Eisner said New York police were unsure how to proceed with an incident of strangulation, because it is difficult to prove right away. Swelling of the vocal cords, bruising or hoarseness don't appear until well after an incident takes place.
However, in recent years, Connecticut has enacted laws to address strangulation attempts and make it a punishable offense.
Eisner supposed that gravity of the situation was not understood. Even if it were fully comprehended, there was no solid law that could be used in a strangulation incident, Eisner said.
According to Eisner, 43 percent of women who were killed by their partners had been strangled in a prior incident.
"It's more common than uncommon," said Rachelle Kuchera Mehra, the executive director at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center of Connecticut. It's also not uncommon, Mehra said, for victims to pass out during an attack, adding that someone who is "sophisticated as a batterer knows how much pressure and where to apply that pressure."
It doesn't take long for a victim to pass out while being strangled, according to Susan Delaney, director of medical advocacy at the DVCC.
Only 11 pounds of pressure need to be applied for 10 seconds before a victim passes out, Delaney said. Death can occur within four to five minutes.
Since 2003, there have been 13 deaths by strangulation in Connecticut, according to the state Department of Public Safety. All but one of the deaths were women killed by a male. The one outlier was a case of a 17-year-old girl killing her newborn child. Two of the victims had been subjected to previous incidents of domestic violence. In other cases, arguments took place shortly before the victims were killed.
The DPS does not separate strangulation instances from other physical ones in its yearly report.
In 2011, there were 13,148 reported cases of domestic violence where hands, fists or feet were used by the assailant. A total of 20,494 domestic violence cases were reported in 2011.
For the past 10 years, 66 percent of reported cases have involved the use of hands, fists or feet, according to reports from the DPS.
Domestic violence cases in Darien have remained steady since 2005, according to data provided by Komm.
Since 2005, an average of 30 domestic disputes resulting in violence were reported per year. An average of 69 disturbances per year that don't result in violence, such as heated arguments, were recorded.
In addition to the Feb. 17 report, Darien police answered a similar domestic dispute call at Morrison's home on Jan. 14.
Ashley told police that following an argument about Morrison's drinking, an altercation took place during which time Morrison allegedly strangled Ashley until she passed out, the report said.
However, when the police contacted Ashley days later to follow up on the situation, she recanted her account and said she and Morrison had been drinking, and she really couldn't be sure of the actual events of the night. Police attempted to get a warrant for Morrison's arrest, but it was denied, citing prosecutorial discretion, according to Capt. Frederick Komm, adding that he suspected that due to the lack of evidence and the fact that Ashley had retracted her statement, the case would have been difficult to prove.
"I don't think it's any more of a problem than any other towns of our size," said Sgt. Alison Hudyma, who added that in any domestic dispute incident, two officers and a supervisor are sent to the scene.
If victims report that they were strangled, police look for redness around the neck, listen for hoarseness and ask about any throat soreness or if the victims blacked out during the attack.
"That's the case with strangulation -- that you don't see a lot of evidence to the naked eye," Hudyma said.
There may be signs of redness around the throat, but there may be also none depending on the victim's skin type, Delaney said.
A 2001 Journal of Emergency Medicine study of 300 police records concerning strangulation showed that 50 percent of the victims have no visible injury and 35 percent of the marks were so minor that photographs weren't taken, according to Delaney.
The best thing, Delaney said, is for police to ask questions: Did the victim black out at any point? Do they have difficulty swallowing? Have they lost control of their bowels?
Victims may also experience symptoms hours after the event, such as internal swelling of the throat, which can make swallowing and breathing difficult.
In 2004, Darien police created a domestic violence liaison unit within the department. Hudyma and Officer Elizabeth DiIorio were the first two officers who had additional training in domestic violence incidents and served as victims' liaisons.
"We do follow-up," Hudyma said. "We just want to have that connection with the victim to make it easier for them to get out of a situation if they need it."
The liaisons also answer any questions victims may have, provide services and explain how the court system works.
However, officers cannot remove someone from an abusive situation.
"Just like anyone else, they need to decide if they want to stay in a relationship," DiIorio said.
Victims stay for a variety of reasons, be it out of fear, financial or because they hope their abuser will change, according to DiIorio.
The most dangerous time for victims is after they decide to leave an abusive partner because of the uncertainty of how that abuser will act.
Hudyma and DiIorio stressed that there are safe places for victims to go once they have left and that they can either contact the Darien police or the DVCC.
"The paradigm shift is under way," Mehra said. "We cannot wait for victims to speak out about it, society must and we must act on it."