Strangulation Offences (Vic)

In 2023, the Victorian government passed the Crimes Amendment (Non-Fatal Strangulation) Bill 2023. This Bill, which will become law on 13 October 2024, introduces several new criminal offences consisting of acts involving choking a victim, a form of assault that most often occurs in a family violence context. This page outlines the new strangulation offences.

What is strangulation?

Strangulation occurs when a person’s breathing is restricted by something outside their throat. Strangulation can lead to less in around a minute. It can also lead to death weeks or months afterwards due to blood clots, stroke or brain damage. In many cases, after a person has been subjected to strangulation, they have no visible injuries.

Joy’s law

The introduction of standalone strangulation offences follows the death of Victorian woman Joy Rowley in 2011. Ms Rowley was smothered to death by a former partner who was subsequently sentenced to over 19 years imprisonment. The victim had previously been subjected to strangulation to the point of unconsciousness by the offender, which had been reported to the police.

The new strangulation offences were dubbed ‘Joy’s law’ by the MPs who supported the changes. Campaigners to have the new offences introduced said the changes were needed in recognition that police did not respond adequately to Joy’s report of the strangulation offence.

Victims of strangulation assaults are statistically much more likely to become the victims of fatal family violence and the new offences are intended to reflect a recognition of the seriousness of this type of violence.  

Non-fatal strangulation intentionally causing injury

Section 34AD of the Criminal Code will make it an offence to:

  • intentionally and without lawful excuse, choke strangle or suffocate another person; and
  • intend the choking, strangulation or suffocation to cause injury; and
  • the choking, strangulation or suffocation causes an injury; when
  • the person is a family member of the other person.

This offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

Non-fatal strangulation

Section 34AE of the Criminal Code will make it an offence to:

  • intentionally and without lawful excuse, choke, strangle or suffocate another person; when
  • the other person is a family member of the accused.

This offence will be punishable by a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.

Family member

‘Family member’ is defined in section 8 of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008.  

A family member includes:

  • a current or former spouse or partner
  • a person who is in or has been in an intimate personal relationship with the person
  • a relative
  • a child who lives with or has lived with the person
  • a child of a person who has had a relationship with the person

Defence

A person who is charged with an offence of non-fatal strangulation under section 34AE has a defence if the conduct took place during sexual activity and:

  • the alleged victim consented to the conduct; or
  • the accused reasonably believed that they consented to the conduct.

Jurisdiction

Both of the offences outlined above are indictable offences that are triable summarily. This means they may be dealt with in the Magistrates Court where the parties agree to this. Alternately, they may be committed to a higher court for finalisation.

In the Magistrates Court, the maximum penalty that can be imposed for a single offence is two years imprisonment. In the higher courts, any penalty up to the maximum prescribed in the legislation may be imposed for an offence.  

Other strangulation offences

If a person commits an assault involving strangulation on a person who is not a family member, they may be charged with assault or intentionally causing serious injury.

Other jurisdictions

Offences making strangulation a standalone offence have now been introduced in all Australian jurisdictions. Legislation in other states and territories has been reported to have improved awareness of the harms and risks of strangulation among frontline workers.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.   

Author

Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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