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Tearful SLC mayor recalls when partner strangled her

Strangulation the focus of day-long first responder training

SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) - Mayor Jackie Biskupski took a deep breath, with tears filling her eyes as she recounted a situation with a domestic partner that landed her in the hospital. 

"I was a victim almost 30 years ago now," said Biskupski, who specified her partner strangled her. "When I ended up in the emergency room, I lied about what happened out of fear..."

She paused for a long time. 

"We have to make sure that women who experience this have the confidence when they are in that situation that the right people are in the room helping," she said. "They don't have to live in that element. There is a way out."

Biskupski talked about the fear and shame victims feel when they report domestic abuse. 

"There are signs, but they don't want to believe it," she said. "They judge you for staying in it, they certainly, back then almost 30 years ago...you were blamed for it in many ways."

"It needs to end," said Biskupski. 

The mayor gave opening remarks at what's being dubbed a "Strangulation Summit," a 9-hour training with law enforcement, first responders, emergency management teams and dispatchers. First responders are being trained on the do's and don'ts of treating non-lethal strangulation victims. Statistics show a woman is seven times more likely to be murdered by an intimate partner if she has experienced non-fatal strangulation at the hands of that partner. 

A law passed in 2017 in the Utah State Legislature made it a felony to choke an intimate partner. Signs of strangulation include a hoarse voice, bruising or red marks around the throat and of course, difficulty breathing. But those signs are difficult to identify, especially on 911 calls, police said. 

"We are learning the right questions to ask," said Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown. "This is somebody that you've married. That you live with. An intimate partner...and now you're going to try and choke the life out of them? We are going to connect the dots in these investigations," said Brown. 

Brown vowed abusers who commit this type of crime will be punished. He urged anyone who has choked an intimate partner in the past to get help; including anger management counseling or therapy. 

Thursday's training is the same type of victim-centered, trauma-informed care law enforcement doing when it comes to sexual assault cases. Care that focuses on the victims and their recovery, not just the perpetrators. 

"We have worked very hard to teach our officers to ask the right questions and we are taking it to a whole other level now," said Brown. 

Medical experts were invited in to talk about the consequences of strangulation - it can lead to future medical issues, including stroke. 

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office is working to enforce the new law that makes strangulation, even non-lethal, a felony. 

"When you choke someone," says Gill, "It's Russian Roulette; you are playing with the life of someone else."

Jamie Justice, Director of the YWCA Family Justice Center in Salt Lake City, said 50 percent of domestic violence victims who seek help have experienced strangulation. 

Click here for a list of domestic violence warning signs, or call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line for help at 1-800-897-LINK (5465).


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