Strangulation, sometimes inaccurately referred to as choking, occurs when blood flow to the brain is restricted due to external pressure on carotid arteries on the neck. By definition, choking means a blocked airway. When blood flow is restricted to the brain, there is a reduced flow of oxygen to the brain. This can result in unconsciousness within seconds, and can cause permanent disability and even death can occur within minutes. Strangulation is one of the most common attacks on women from intimate partners.
While belts, scarves, and ropes can be used to strangle, hands around the neck are the most common. According to studies, 99% of strangulation victims are women1, and that about 10% of women have actually been strangled by their intimate partner at some point in their lives2. In most instances, the act of strangulation is not meant to kill, although it sometimes does. It is meant to let the woman know they can be killed at any time the attacker wants to exert power and control3. Although strangulation is a felony in progressively more jurisdictions, prosecution after the fact will not restore permanent brain damage or your life.
According to PoliceOne writer Dave Young4, the defense for being strangled for law enforcement professionals is as follows:
- Remain calm. Panicking will not help you get out of this, and time is of the essence.
Our comment: Not panicking is paramount to getting away, and most importantly, time is of the essence. Permanent brain damage can occur in 7 to 14 seconds, and death can occur in 2 minutes. Regularly practicing strangulation defenses so that they become muscle memory is what will help you remain calm and help ensure the success of your escape.
- Protect the airway. You need to release the grip from around your neck. If possible you can do what is called the “Turtle Shell Technique,” this is what you tuck you chin down and raise your shoulders up to help support your neck.
Our comment: Yes, you need to release the grip from around your neck, however the “Turtle Shell Technique” is tremendously ineffective, especially if your attacker is bigger and stronger. The best technique to use depends on the attacker’s position. For example, the strangulation defense when being strangled by an attacker standing in front of you is different from the strangulation defense when being strangled when the attacker has pinned you on the ground, and both are different from the strangulation defense when the attacker has pinned you to a wall.
- Stay focused on your objective. Chokes can be reapplied, so escape quickly and evaluate your force options.
Our comment: It’s important to remember that your objective is to get away! Escaping quickly is paramount, and when being attacked, it is always important to evaluate your force options. Force options include striking (kicking and/or punching) and using weapons.
- Survey the areas for possible weapons you can use or that they may have access to.
Our comment: When selecting a weapon of opportunity (see Young’s list below) do what you can to select the weapon that will do the most damage.
- If all else fails you can always try playing possum and collapsing to go motionless and limp giving the inmate the impression he succeeded.
Our comment: Playing dead in the hopes of avoiding permanent injury or death is the last line of defense. There is the risk that a limp body will not cause the attacker to stop strangling.
Young continues by describing the “weapons of opportunity” for an officer who is being strangled:
- Biting whatever is in front of our mouth.
Our comment: Biting would only be an option if the attacker is using a rear naked choke (choke from behind with the arm across the neck). If the attacker’s hands are on your throat, from the front or the side, there won’t be any body parts in biting distance. An intimate partner using a rear naked choke in an assault against a woman is uncommon. If you are caught in a rear naked choke and the rear naked choke escape defense is ineffective, you need to determine whether biting, head butting with the back of your head, donkey kicking the attacker’s knees, and throwing elbow strikes is more likely to successfully enable your escape than to enrage your attacker resulting in greater violence. In other words, if an attacker is using a rear naked choke to strangle you, biting alone is unlikely to enable you to get away.
- Your fingers into the inmate’s eyes.
Our comment: This requires two things. First, your attacker’s eyes must be within gouging distance, i.e. the attacker must be in front of you. Secondly, you must be mentally prepared to permanently blind your attacker. In the rare event that the attacker is a stranger, this is less of a psychological challenge than if the attacker is your intimate partner, especially for women who are financially dependent on their intimate partner.
- Head butting with the back of your head.
Our comment: The attack must be a rear naked choke strangulation for head butting with the back of your head to be a possibility. See comment on Biting above.
- Slamming their body into a wall or other hard objects like door knobs, pay phones, rails to stairs etc.
Our comment: In the event that a woman’s intimate partner is physically bigger and stronger, the success of this strategy is questionable.
- Break anything within reach. This includes fingers, ankles, knees, legs or toes.
Our comment: Breaking a finger by pinning a wrist with one hand and using the other to break a single finger on the pinned wrist has a very high success rate. Breaking ankles, knees, legs, or toes requires striking.
- Sticking your pen or other hard object into the inmates eyes or throat area.
Our comment: Pens to the eyes, throat, or ears, a lamp or other hard object to the face, a kitchen fire extinguisher to the head utilize everyday household items as potentially deadly weapons. To effectively use these weapons, you must be mentally prepared to kill your attacker. Again, this can be difficult for women whose attacker is their intimate partner, especially if they are financially dependent on them.
- Changing your environment if you are standing and nothing is working try going to the ground and using it as an impact weapon, or down the stair case.
Our comment: The defenses to a standing strangulation where the attacker is using their hands are very, very effective. Throwing yourself to the ground or down a stair case might be an option if the attacker is using a scarf, rope, belt, or other weapon to strangle. Going to the ground and trying to use it as an impact weapon probably won’t be very effective against a bigger and stronger assailant. Furthermore, as most women are not skilled in ground fighting, taking the conflict to the ground would likely result in the victim being in a far worse position. Throwing yourself down a staircase carries the risk of impact injury to both the assailant and the victim, and it is possible that the victim could end up in a far worse position than standing.
- When all else fails goes completely limp, play possum and wait for an opening
Our comment: Again, playing dead in the hopes of avoiding permanent injury or death is the last line of defense as there is the risk that a limp body will not cause the attacker to stop strangling.
Self-Defense Training for Women
The ACT self-defense class curriculum for women helps equip women with simple, effective techniques to defend against the common attacks against women, such as the strangulation. Numerous strangulation escapes are included in the 8-hour self-defense workshop.
1 Black MC, Basile KC, Breiding MJ., et al. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 summary report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf
2 Strack G, McClane G, Hawley D (2001). “A review of 300 attempted strangulation cases – Part I: Criminal legal issues”. Journal of Emergency Medicine. 21: 303–309. doi:10.1016/S0736-4679(01)00399-7
3 “Law reform targets the crime of strangulation”. Domestic Violence Report. 19 (6): 81–100. August–September 2014
4 Young, Dave. Defending yourself from being choked. https://www.policeone.com/corrections/articles/1460455-Defending-yourself-from-being-choked/