One of the crimes initially charged against Howson, first-degree strangulation, has been on the books for only two years. It was created to fill a gap in the Penal Law after authorities and advocates complained that domestic violence victims were often choked to the brink of death and, absent a visible physical injury, district attorneys could charge nothing more serious than harassment, a mere violation. Until November 2010, strangulation was not a crime in New York State.
Johanna Sullivan, counsel to the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, said that law enforcement began charging under the new statute from the day it took effect. Now, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), about 1,000 strangulation arrests are made every month.
"From the very first day, [law enforcement authorities] were charging it," Sullivan said. "The law enforcement community, the prosecution community, thought there was a gap in the law and there was a need to address it. This statute has provided them with a tool to hold abusers accountable."
Sullivan said strangulation is a common way for abusers to exert power over their victims, bringing the victim to the very edge of death.
"Someone can strangle someone almost to the point of dying, and will use that over and over again as a way of gaining power and control," said Sullivan. "They threaten the victim by almost killing them."
Sullivan said studies show that victims who have been strangled in the past are almost 10 times more likely to be killed through domestic violence.
State statistics show that the New York City Police Department accounts for more than half of the statewide strangulation arrests, with the bulk of those in Brooklyn, according to a September DCJS report. But Westchester County, where Howson was charged, is also among the top 10.
Howson is expected to face homicide charges when he returns to court on Jan. 14, according to sources close to the process.
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore declined to discuss the case.
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