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New laws target strangulation, family violence


Choking or suffocating an intimate partner is a critical form of family and domestic violence that becomes a specific criminal offence from 1 October 2020.

Part of a package of family violence legal reforms, the law against non-lethal strangulation and suffocation recognises that such an attack is one of the strongest indicators of an increased risk of homicide.

"Someone putting their hands around your neck is the ultimate act of power in family violence," Commissioner for Victims of Crime Kati Kraszlan says. "It says, ‘I can kill you’."

"Research shows those subject to non-lethal strangulation are seven times more likely to be a victim of homicide," Ms Kraszlan says. "So we know that this is a very strong sign of escalating violence in a relationship."

Under existing law, the attacker could be charged with a range of offences, including common assault.

The new law recognises the seriousness of the conduct by allowing for it to be charged and prosecuted as a specific criminal offence.

An offence is committed if someone unlawfully impedes another person’s normal breathing, blood circulation, or both.

Strangulation can have severe medical consequences days or even months later, causing internal injuries such as blood clots, stroke and brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen.

"The new offence makes it clear that this is very dangerous behaviour, even if there are no visible signs of injury," Ms Kraszlan says.

"It also ensures first responders understand the seriousness of the act, ask the right questions, provide victims with the right medical treatment, and make sure that the right evidence is recorded."

The offence is not restricted to family and domestic violence cases and carries a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.

Persistent family violence also becomes a criminal offence on October 1, recognising that physical and psychological abuse against a partner often forms a pattern of offending.

It applies to an act of family violence against one victim on three or more occasions over a 10-year period.

"The traumatic and ongoing nature of persistent acts of family violence means that victims may find it difficult to recall the specific details of each individual act of violence perpetrated against them," Ms Kraszlan says.

The law covers a wide range of offences commonly committed in circumstances of family violence and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. More serious offences would be prosecuted in their own right.

This offence captures acts of family violence committed before the law took effect so long as they were unlawful at the time.

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