1.14We have no doubt that strangulation often constitutes very serious criminal behaviour and that its impact has, until recently, been underestimated.
1.15We have also found that there is a particular problem charging the many instances of strangulation that do not result in visible injury. Those instances may result in significant internal or psychological signs and symptoms that often go undocumented. The current framework of serious violent crimes in Part 8 of the Crimes Act 1961 does not cater well to prosecutions for this type of behaviour because the framework requires proof of harm or of a particular intention on the part of the perpetrator, which cannot be easily determined. As a consequence, this offending tends to be charged as “male assaults female”, which does not require proof of injury or a special intention but carries a maximum penalty of only two years. We do not think that charge reflects an appropriate level of accountability for many cases of strangulation.
1.18Strangulation satisfies those criteria for reform. We consider that a separate strangulation offence will be a more effective criminal sanction than the current suite of offences and will increase awareness of the lethality of strangulation. In these ways, a new offence will also help to increase the safety of victims of family violence.
1.19In addition to a new offence, we recommend that the Sentencing Act 2002 be amended to include strangulation as an aggravating factor. This will emphasise the future risks associated with strangulation, and when strangulation is charged under a generic offence, it may increase the sentence imposed. Finally, we also recommend that the Police make a number of operational changes designed to ensure that strangulation is identified and recorded in such a way that it is apparent in subsequent searches of the records relating to the perpetrators.