Non-Fatal Strangulation: A New Offence; An Old Issue?

Date of event 24th November 2023

Victims of non-fatal strangulation will only report it if they are convinced that they will be taken seriously and protected, a seminar in Derry heard on 24th November 2023.  

Speaking at the launch of her research into the nature and scale of non-fatal strangulation, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Alyson Kilpatrick, said services must be put in place to protect and support victims. 

Commissioned by the Foyle Family Justice Centre and the Department of Justice, the research, Non-Fatal Strangulation: A New Offence; An Old Issue? also identified further steps needed to address this devastating offence.

A specific offence of non-fatal strangulation and asphyxiation came into force on June 26 this year.

The new offence recognises the serious harm caused by this type of crime, attracting significant penalties with a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment in the most serious cases.

Non-fatal strangulation is seen as a red flag for escalating violence in intimate partner relationships and a possible indicator for future risk of murder or attempted murder.

Over the last 10 years seven people (six women and one man) in Northern Ireland were strangled to death.

“Strangulation is an extremely serious, terrifying, and life-threatening form of violence often used to coerce, control and intimidate victims. To understand why the law had to be amended to provide a standalone offence, one must understand what it is and where it fits within the recognised patterns of domestic and sexual violence and abuse,” Ms Kilpatrick said in her report.

She added that non-fatal strangulation is a feature of many women’s experiences and a high number of domestic homicides of women involved strangulation. The numbers collected to date are likely to represent a mere fraction of the overall scale of the issue and more needs to be done.

Chief Executive Officer of the Foyle Family Justice Centre, Marie Brown congratulated Alyson Kilpatrick for her report saying it would be invaluable for agencies in understanding how non-fatal strangulation is used to coerce, control, and terrify victims.

“We are delighted to be launching the first research from Foyle Family Justice Centre. It is an excellent piece of work which I am sure will lead to increased awareness in cases involving strangulation, improved investigation of strangulation cases and victim safety,” Ms Kilpatrick said in her report.

The seminar also heard from Alliance for Hope co-founder and Chief Executive officer, Gael Strack, a long-time domestic violence prosecutor and victim’s advocate who said that non-fatal strangulation is the ‘calling card of a killer’.

“So anytime a new State, a new country passes a standalone law on strangulation it sends a strong message. It highlights an important issue,” she told the seminar.

Ms Strack congratulated Alyson Kilpatrick on her “brilliant” research saying that her findings were similar to those in the United States.

“That this is a gender-based crime, strangulation is easy to miss because of a lack of visible external injuries. And if it is easy to miss, then bad things are going to happen, “she said.

Ms Strack added that another big issue in the United States is hidden homicides. “Because you can strangle someone to death and not leave a single mark and if that is true, which we know that it is, that means you can have murderers who strangle their victims to death and then make it look like suicide,” she said.

Gael Strack, along with Casey Gwinn, the former City Attorney for San Diego, are internationally-known for their work in San Diego for the creation of the “Family Justice Centre” concept, which puts police investigators, prosecutors, social workers, family advocates, and domestic violence one physical location, to work together to manage and prosecute domestic violence and family-related violence.

The seminar, chaired by retired Judge Tom Burgess, Chairperson of the Foyle Family Justice Centre also heard contributions from The Lady Chief Justice, the Right Honourable, Dame Siobhan Keegan, Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally, Judge.


Click Here to view available videos from the Launch Day Notes  



1. The new stand-alone offence of Non-Fatal Strangulation was introduced through the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act 2022.

2. The penalties for the new offence are: – up to 2 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine up to £5000 when prosecuted in the magistrates’ courts, and – up to 14 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine when prosecuted in the Crown Court.

3. Strangulation or suffocation can be caused by intentionally doing anything that might affect a person’s ability to breathe, or the flow of blood to their brain.  This would include, for example:

  • using a hand or hands around the victim’s neck
  • putting pressure on the victim’s neck using a body part like a foot, arm, knee, or anything else.
  • pulling tightly using an object like a scarf or belt around the neck
  • hanging
  • covering the mouth and nose to prevent breathing
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