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NW District Attorney's office targets domestic violence

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NORTHAMPTON, MA (WSHM) -

The Northwestern District Attorney's office wants law enforcement to know that strangulation could be a precursor to something even worse.

"When we started tracking the data in 2010, we were really able to see how big of a problem strangulation was in our district," said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Suhl, who heads up the domestic violence and adult sexual assault unit. Her office said that since 2009, there have been 170 reported cases of strangulation in the Northwestern district.

"There's not a lot of statistics that are available to compare with other rural areas and frankly, a lot of the other DA's offices in the state, I'm not sure they're tracking it the way we are tracking it," Suhl stated.

But, as she recently learned at a conference in San Diego, tracking strangulation is key. Suhl told CBS 3 that a person strangled by their partner is seven times more likely to be killed by their partner.

That led to the district attorney's office developing a new strangulation checklist for law enforcement.

Among the many items police will ask the victim, will be how long were they strangled, what was the situation like, what words were said to the victim, did the victim lose consciousness and what kind of physical details are on the victim's body.

Franklin and Hampshire Counties have seen five domestic violence homicides since 2010. But, Suhl said strangulation is not necessarily about killing.

"Usually, the intent is to control," said Suhl. "It tells a person that I can kill you at any moment with my bare hands. I don't need a weapon to do it."

No matter what the situation, the district attorney's office encourages all domestic violence victims to get help from a local agency.

"It's a matter of safety planning," Suhl stated. "If they're going to leave the relationship, if they're going to stay in the relationship, they need to make plans on how they're going to stay safe in or out of the relationship."

Suhl said the biggest thing her office would like to see moving forward is for the legislature to act on a bill that would make strangulation a felony.

Right now, the district attorney can either charge a misdemeanor assault and battery or attempted murder, which is much more difficult to prove.

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