It is tantamount to torture

Kate Manne, author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, in the Times Friday:

It doesn’t take much to cut off someone’s oxygen supply, or to restrict blood flow to and from her brain. Around 10 seconds of pressure on the carotid artery, either constant or intermittent, is usually enough to render the victim unconscious, and it requires less pressure than it takes to open a can of soda.

This act is often labeled “choking,” as it was in an article this week in The New Yorker, by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, in describing the multiple occasions on which Eric Schneiderman, New York’s former attorney general, allegedly assaulted women in this manner.

But experts on domestic violence don’t call it that, they call it strangulation. One chokes on a bit of potato, one is strangled by the hands of a human being squeezing one’s neck.

Nonfatal manual strangulation is a well-known precursor to intimate- partner homicide. Victims of such attacks are some seven times more likely to become the victim of an attempted homicide by the same perpetrator. The New Yorker article noted the irony that Mr. Schneiderman himself had written legislation that established stiffer penalties against those who strangle. “I think this will save a lot of lives,” he predicted.

And yet – strangulation is now seen as part of sex, aka “kink.”

In addition to causing great pain and fear, strangulation sends a powerful message. What strangulation effectively communicates to a victim, more clearly than words could, is that an abuser is willing to exert punitive control by preying on her most fundamental visceral needs — such as the bodily imperative to gasp for air when she cannot breathe, and the desperate urge to end the intense pain that strangulation causes.

Experts compare the sensation of being strangled to waterboarding; it is tantamount to torture. And then there is the terrifying knowledge that someone is deliberately causing your body to thus protest, which in itself may be what breaks you.

But but but, the “sex positive” team cries, that’s what makes it hot, and as long as it’s consensual – knock yourselves out, literally.

“I cannot fathom that someone who drafted the legislation on strangulation is unfamiliar with such concepts,” Jennifer Friedman, an expert on intimate-partner violence, said of Mr. Schneiderman in The New Yorker. How could he be ignorant of what strangulation does to the human body, and what it communicates to the victim?

Many will take this question as a puzzle, not a rhetorical lament. So perhaps this is an apt moment to point out a dark but important truth about intimate-partner violence: Some abusers are perfectly well aware of what they are doing, at least at a certain level. And that is why they keep doing it. They want to maintain dominance and exercise control over their female partners, among others. And that is why an abuser may resort to the cruelest and most covert of methods, such as cutting off her air supply with his bare hands, leaving no bruises.

But at least she can’t talk, right?

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