3 Dec 2018

Sophie Elliott's mum backs law criminalising strangulation

10:03 am on 3 December 2018

The mother of murdered woman Sophie Elliott hopes a new strangulation offence could help others avoid her daughter's fate.

Lesley Elliott.

Lesley Elliott. Photo: Supplied

The new offence of strangulation or suffocation will from today carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. Previously there was no separate offence for strangulation as it was treated as assault.

These changes, as part of the Family Violence Amendment Act, are designed to help curb family violence. The legislation was spearheaded by the former National government and passed unanimously last month.

Sophie Elliott was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend Clayton Weatherston at her Dunedin home in 2008.

Her mother Lesley Elliott said the five-month relationship was volatile and, in the days before her death, turned physical.

"[Weatherston] pushed her down on the bed and put his arm across her neck and she struggled and struggled and eventually fortunately was able to get out and run out of his flat.

"He could easily have killed her then. He did a few days later unfortunately. So eventually it's probably going to happen that they will actually kill the person."

Sophie's friends and mother had urged her to go to the police but she thought it would be pointless.

Gavin Ellis

Lesley Elliott. Photo: SUPPLIED

Mrs Elliott said she hoped the new offence would help victims and society realise the seriousness of strangulation.

"Somebody putting their hands around your neck or putting their arm across somebody's neck: They're doing it to scare the person, the victim, or they're trying to kill them."

Women's Refuge chief executive Dr Ang Jury said strangulation was so common that many victims did not think to mention it.

"They talk about, 'Oh, he held me on the bed with his arm across my throat and I couldn't breathe,' or, 'He held me up against a wall and I couldn't breathe.'

"And they didn't necessarily recognise that actually if they couldn't breathe they were actually close to becoming a homicide victim."

She told Morning Report that there was no better way for perpetrators to try and control their partner than to prove they could kill them.

"The big issue too is that often there are no external marks and swelling on the interior of the throat can prove fatal hours after the event. So it's really insidious and dangerous."

Dr Ang said that until now, the number of assaults by family members had been hidden within several categories of charges. The new act would highlight that these things were occurring within the family environment. It was important that organisations such as Women's Refuge had access to this data, she said.

Justice undersecretary Jan Logie, a Green MP, is overseeing the law change.

"This legislation is intended to ensure that everyone knows how serious this is and feel confident in coming forward to the police to lay a complaint."

Forced marriage and assault on a family member will become new offences from today.

The new legislation also allows victims to give evidence via video recording made before the hearing. It also makes changes to the Bail Act by making the safety of the victim and their family the primary consideration when granting bail and imposing conditions.

The latest Ministry of Justice figures show an estimated one million New Zealanders are directly involved in family violence every year. Last year, police officers attended a family violence call out every four minutes.

Where to get help:

Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It's Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

]http://www.victimsinfo.govt.nz/ Victim Support]: 0800 650 654

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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