Indigenous survivors of domestic violence are being warned to report being strangled and suffocated, as a new public awareness campaign rolls out across Western Australia.
The state government has launched a public education campaign to inform all Western Australians about the serious consequences of non-fatal suffocation and strangulation, and ensure victims get help.
The Aboriginal Family Law Services says around seventy per cent of Indigenous survivors of domestic violence in WA have been non-fatally strangled.
“Its concerning because victims aren’t aware what physiological impacts it can have. Which is a concern for us,” Kungarrakan and Warramungu woman and Principal Legal Officer Stephanie Monck said.
“Our service educates our communities, and women in particular in remote communities, to not down play it, seek help and understand what the serious consequences of it can be. It can lead to death.”
Non-fatal suffocation and strangulation became a specific criminal offence in WA on October 1 this year, bringing WA into line with most other states.
Only Victoria and Tasmania are yet to introduce similar laws.
A NFS offence is committed if someone unlawfully impedes another person's normal breathing, blood circulation, or both, and now carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment in WA.
“It gets swept under the rug a lot. A client might say, ‘he tried to choke me the other day, but nothing happened’,” Ms Monck said.
“(But) there is an escalating nature to domestic violence. He might punch you this week, next week he’ll have his hands around your neck and the week after he’ll strangle you and you might die.”
The WA government today launched a public awareness campaign, including a video sharing the experiences of survivors and a step-by-step guide to show victims how to report violence and seek help.
The Aboriginal Family Law Services will be visiting remote communities across Western Australia to discuss the seriousness of NFS.
“We have a plan going to go into remote communities to offer educational programs on what the legal rights (of victims) are, to educate them on what other services are available, including housing and dealing with police. We have a holistic approach,” Ms Monck said.
“We will be educating (communities) about these laws now being in place. It’s a serious offence with a serious maximum penalty.”
Experts say non-fatal strangulation can cause blood clots, stroke and brain damage, while even a small amount of pressure to the neck can have catastrophic consequences.
"The amount of pressure in a handshake is actually greater than the pressure it takes to block the blood vessels and airway in the neck,” emergency physician Dr Michelle Johnston said.
'These arteries deliver blood to the brain, so stopping the supply to your brain can cause a stroke.”
WA Police say 90 people have been charged under the new NFS laws since they were introduced in October.
Ms Monck said her service can offer Aboriginal women culturally-appropriate help to report violence.
“Don’t downplay any violence. Seek help if you need it. Don’t be afraid to speak up, you shouldn’t concern yourself with what’s going to happen to an offender,” she says.
“The fear for me is…victims might just shut up and not say anything, because there’s that fear of not wanting a partner to go to jail. Or they might suffer violence at the hands of the perpetrators family.
“We know that victims don’t feel empowered. We offer them support, whether legal or social, and assist them find their own power. It’s a very specific dialogue that has to be had.”