We welcome this consultation and the opportunity to contribute on this vital issue. We are eager to see a new offence of non-fatal strangulation introduced in Northern Ireland. Our position is that there is an evident need for this offence to be introduced, for the necessary educational piece of work to be put in place, and for this roll out to be properly and fully resourced – doing so will save lives. Evidence from jurisdictions where this kind of legislation is in place already shows that it works when fully enacted and treated with due seriousness – New Zealand has had such a law since 2018 and while the enactment is occasionally less than perfect, progress is being made.
We are also keen to emphasise that this crime is heavily gendered. As research has shown, the overwhelming majority of the victims of this crime are women, and the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men. This does not mean that the wording of the legislation should not be gender neutral and apply to all, but it does mean that care must be given to the focus of the educational piece that accompanies this legislation, to ensure that first responders are aware of this phenomenon presenting in a very gendered way. It is also vital that the public is made aware that, fundamentally, the practice of non-fatal strangulation is not an example of a person “snapping” under pressure, rather a very calculated means of exerting control on a victim. It is deeply tied to patriarchal notions of power balances in relationships, of who is “active” and who is “passive” in sexual encounters, and that this needs to be unpacked when doing preventative work around this issue. Kate Manne argues that “strangulation is torture…It is characterised as a demonstration of authority and domination. As such, together with its gendered nature, it is a type of action paradigmactic of misogyny.”
There remains a need for a serious examination of violence against women and girls (VAWG) as a phenomenon, and a commitment to taking seriously the prevalence of this violence, understanding its causes as well as dealing with its effects. This will require resourcing to help victims and survivors but it will also require committed education and a broader conversation about this endemic social problem. We look forward to the forthcoming Executive VAWG strategy and hope that it is as wide-ranging, unflinching and ambitious as it needs to be in order to get to grips with the scale of the problem.
You can read the full response here.