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Strangulation statute sends a strong message to would-be abusers

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ROCHESTER - Rochester has seen a significant increase in aggravated domestic violence assault arrests this year, according to police statistics, but much of that is not due to increased violence between intimate partners, but rather to the strengthening of a statute on strangulation, which is typical to a large number of domestic violence incidents.

Bob Frechette, a Rochester Domestic Violence detective who helped craft a change in the law that made choking a felony instead of a misdemeanor, said on Thursday most DV cases are all about exerting power, and there is no more effective way for domineering spouses to demonstrate that power than to close their hands around a partner's neck.

"That is a classic way for abusers to show that power," he said. "They tend to use that for control."

Earlier this year Frechette provided training to Rochester officers to help them identify and utilize the strangulation statute, which has helped to lead to more arrests and prosecutions, he said.

For instance, in November there were eight aggravated DV assaults, while in November of last year only 3. And so far this year there have been 34 such arrests compared to 23 in the same time period last year.

Frechette was one of many police, prosecutors and government officials who helped craft the change in the law in 2010. Previous to the change, strangulation - or choking - was mostly prosecuted as a misdemeanor, which carries a yearlong maximum sen

Rochester Crime State chart shows increase in both DV misdemeanor and felony assaults. (Courtesy Rochester Police)

tence, compared to a 7-year prison stint that the felony carries.

Another caveat police and prosecutors used to have to bring to the case was physical evidence of strangulation such as bruising to the throat.

"Now they don't have to do that," Frechette said. Instead, symptoms such as impeded breathing, change in voice, reduced circulation and tunnel vision provide grounds for felony prosecution, even without the markings of physical evidence to the throat area.

Frechette said such symptoms often occur before any physical markings would show.

Frechette also cautioned that while it may appear that DV assaults are on the rise, the numbers are very sporadic and hard to decipher any specific trend.

In fact, 2016 saw 39 aggravated DV assaults in the city, which will be either about the same or slightly higher than this year's projections.

Frechette also added that while it may seem like DV assaults get a spike over the holidays, they actually normally take a slight hiatus before seeing another uptick later in January.

If anyone believes they are in danger of domestic violence they should contact Haven, which advocates and gives support for domestic violence victims. Haven's 24-hour hotline is (603) 994-SAFE (7233) and walk-in services are offered locally at 150 Wakefield St. in Rochester. Haven also has offices in Portsmouth and Salem.

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