NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s a reality many never think they will live, but when they do, oftentimes it’s hard to ask for help; however, it’s the stories that are continuously told that help others recognize how serious of a problem domestic violence really is.

“In the early morning of September 12, 2020, as I walked away from a five-year relationship, I was taken down from behind and strangled,” said Lee, who spoke in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

Lee had fought for her life.

“I can’t breathe, he’s breaking my neck, I’m going to die,” were the thoughts that ran through her head.

After, it would be years of going in and out of court.

“I spent all of 2021, and part of 2022 in the criminal justice system being victimized over and over as he eventually accepted a plea deal and walked away with a misdemeanor, reckless endangerment. A misdemeanor is a less serious crime, strangulation is not. Strangulation is the most serious form of domestic violence and anyone who strangles you is telling you they will kill,” Lee said.

On Tuesday, Lee spoke in favor of SB 0213/ HB 0248, which would require a person convicted of domestic assault involving strangulation to serve a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days incarceration. It also states a defendant who commits aggravated assault in which the victim of the offense loses consciousness due to strangulation may be prosecuted for attempted second-degree murder. 

“I learned that I can’t change the system, and I can’t change people, but with your help, I can change the law on strangulation to help protect victims and give their perpetrator consequence they feel as much as I felt his hands around my neck,” said Lee. “Let’s make Tennessee safer and stronger by changing the strangulation law.”

South Precinct Cmdr. Kevin Lovell, who was formerly the commander of the Domestic Violence Division, testified before the committee in favor of the bill as well.

Lovell explained to lawmakers how “strangulation doesn’t necessarily have to mean putting your hands around someone’s neck, but if you think about putting your hands around someone’s neck and squeezing to the point where they lose consciousness or they stop breathing even for a second, that is the most dangerous thing you can ever do to somebody.”

Davidson County is not immune to this type of violence. According to Metro police, three years ago investigators saw around 75 strangulation cases. Last year, that number more than doubled to 215. Police say so far this year, they have looked into 78 cases of strangulation.

“Our victims are the most vulnerable, they oftentimes have no other option than to go back to the situation there in just because of the living situation they’ve been in for several years. When we meet with victims or we go to calls with victims we try to spend as much time as we can with them going over counseling, orders of protection,” said Lovell.

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They’re cases the Family Safety Center sees more often than you think.

“Fifty percent of people who are experiencing intimate partner violence said that has also been strangled by their intimate partner. So, that’s a huge number. That means that strangulation is incredibly common in an abusive relationship,” said Becky Bullard, senior director at the Metro Nashville Family Safety Center.

Bullard explained the most concerning part is most of the time you cannot see the signs of someone being strangled because oftentimes there are no marks left behind.

“Strangulation is right up there with firearms as one of the highest risk factors. If someone strangles someone else they are 7.5 times more likely to kill that person,” said Bullard. “The crime of strangulation is really a deadly one, so being able to treat it as that through our state is important.”

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Bullard also described how noticing the signs on those of darker skin tones can be difficult. She suggested anyone who has been a victim of strangling, seek medical attention. There are times when no visible sign will appear but internal damage could have been done.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or you’re unsure about whether or not your situation is domestic violence, please speak to an advocate at the Family Safety Center at 615-880-1100.  To speak with someone on a 24-hour hotline, you can contact the YWCA Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-334-4628.