Oregon has lagged behind other states in taking seriously the crime of strangulation.
The crime is a felony in many other states but often charged as a misdemeanor in Oregon, as WW reported last year.
In the 35-day legislative session that starts next week, lawmakers led by Sen. Kathleen Taylor (D-Portland) will attempt to expand the definition of strangulation and reclassify it as a felony when the victim is related to or lives with the perpetrator.
Taylor says she was frustrated that a similar proposal, House Bill 2955, stalled in the 2017 session.
"We put people in jail for not paying their TriMet fares and strangulation is a misdemeanor," Taylor says. "It makes me sick to my stomach."
Last year, Melissa Erlbaum, the executive director of Clackamas Women's Services, which works with survivors of domestic violence, testified about the role that strangulation plays in domestic abuse.
"Many domestic violence offenders and rapists do not strangle their partners to kill them; they strangle them to let them know they can kill them any time they wish," Erlbaum said. "Once victims know this truth, they live under the power and control of their abusers day in and day out."
Oregon domestic violence prosecutors and victims' advocates have long pushed for a definition of strangulation that takes into account the ways in which perpetrators cut off their victims' air supply beyond putting their hands around victims' throats. The proposed legislation would expand the definition to include impeding breathing or circulation by "applying pressure to the chest" of the victim, a tactic perpetrators reportedly use to avoid leaving tell-tale marks.
In her 2017 testimony, Erlbaum cited research showing the connection between strangulation and subsequent crimes.
"We know that a man who strangles a woman once is 800 percent more likely to later kill her," Erlbaum testified. "There is also a correlation between perpetrators who strangle and the percentage by which they commit other crimes, including violence against law enforcement and mass homicides."
With the backing of a bi-partisan group of co-sponsors, Taylor will introduce Senate Bill 1562, which calls for a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of $125,000, or both. She hopes the bill will fare better than it did last year.
"Oregon can't continue to be passive on how it treats perpetrators of domestic violence," Taylor says.