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Push to strengthen domestic violence laws in Ohio

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 6:12 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The high-profile death of Gabby Petito has increased calls to protect victims of domestic violence across the country. A coroner ruled Petito’s death a homicide by strangulation, one of the deadliest forms of domestic violence.

Ohio is the only state where strangulation isn’t a felony. It’s one of two states where it’s not a standalone felony, but prosecutors in the other state - South Carolina - can couple it with other crimes.

Ohio lawmakers Thursday heard testimony on a bill that looks to strengthen penalties for abusers and protections in place for survivors. That includes making strangulation a felony in domestic situations.

“If you’re in an accident, immediately we scan you correctly and look to see who’s at fault. But we don’t do that with strangulation patients,” said Melisa Miner, a representative of the International Association of Forensic Nurses of Ohio.

She told lawmakers not punishing offenders increases the likelihood that they will become a repeat offender and decrease the chance that a victim will speak out. She was giving testimony in support of H.B. 3, also known as Aisha’s Law. It’s named after Aisha Fraser, a Cleveland-area teacher who was killed by her ex-husband in 2018.

The bill would expand the definition of domestic violence to include strangulation. Victims could request emergency protection orders at any time through Aisha’s Law, and police would be required to refer victims determined to be in a high-risk situation to domestic violence advocacy services after a lethality assessment.

“We need a state where survivors feel heard no matter what status of power their abuser holds,” said Shelby Lieber, a resident advocate at the Hope and Healing Survivor Resource Center in Akron. “We need laws that protect our survivors.”

The bill passed the Ohio House unanimously in 2020, but the Senate failed to put it up for a vote before the end of the legislative session. Thursday, the bill completed its third hearing in the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee. It was re-referred to the Rules and References Committee because it has an appropriation. That committee will decide where it heads next.

A separate piece of legislation in the Senate looks to make strangulation a felony, but it’s still in committee.

If you are concerned about your safety, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 800.799.SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org. You can also call the YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter 24/7 at 419-241-7386 to seek help for yourself or a loved one, or to learn more about how to help victims.

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