Choking or otherwise blocking someone's breathing will become a felony in some instances in Pennsylvania under a new law being hailed by supporters as a valuable weapon against domestic violence.
Choking often leads to escalating violence in abusive relationships, according to victim advocates and prosecutors, who say victims have trouble proving they were choked. Physical injury is not necessary to charge an alleged perpetrator under the bill that Gov. Wolf signed into law Wednesday.
The state became one of more than 30 that have taken such actions. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence support the law.
State Rep. Becky Corbin (R., Chester) introduced the legislation, which amends the crimes code, last year after county prosecutors came to her to close a legal "loophole."
"Because of the amount of domestic violence across Pennsylvania, we expect that this legislation will help protect many, many potential victims," Corbin said in a statement.
The law, which takes effect in two months, defines the offense as "strangulation," the obstructing of someone's breathing or blood circulation by blocking the nose and mouth or applying pressure to the throat or neck.
Under the law, this action would rise to the felony level in several instances, including if the perpetrator is a family member or caretaker of the victim or is under a protection from abuse order or if the act is committed as part of sexual violence.
The law does not apply if someone consents to being choked.
The bill passed in the state House by a 184-3 vote and by a unanimous vote in the Senate.
Dolly Wideman-Scott, chief executive officer of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, said in a statement that she was thankful for the law, adding that she sees victims come to her office who are emotionally and physically damaged.
"Over and over again," she said, "we see choking as part of this horrible pattern of abuse."
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