Antoine Dixon samurai victim backs plan to raise punishment for strangling
The victim of a brutal samurai sword attack is backing a proposed law change that could see stranglers jailed for up to seven years.
At present, a gap in the law means offenders are often charged with the offence "male assaults female", which carries only a two-year maximum jail term.
The Law Commission was asked by the justice minister last year to look into whether it should become a specific criminal offence, as it is in some other countries.
Simonne Butler, one of the victims of samurai sword attacker Antoine Dixon, said she supported the law change, because strangling was "a really common way for men to control women".
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However, she was quick to admit that the new crime category would not have stopped the horrific attack she suffered.
She needed 27 hours of surgery after Dixon, who was repeatedly referred to during his trial as Antonie, rather than Antoine, hacked into her hands and arms in a methamphetamine-fuelled rampage in 2003.
A year earlier, she had been in a relationship with Dixon in which domestic violence was a "weekly occurrence".
"One time, when he was raping me, he started off strangling me and it led to rape."
Thirteen years on she still remembers the panic. "You can't breathe - it's not like any other attack. When you are being strangled, you lose power in the whole rest of your body."
She remembered not being able to speak and having Dixon's finger marks on her neck for days.
She never went to police about his beatings, meaning the proposed law change would have had no benefit for her.
"I was too scared, I was too embarrassed. I didn't think they could help me."
She said: "There are a lot of times during a relationship when it [strangulation] is used as a tool for manipulation and fear.
"I think it's a very dangerous crime. I think anybody who is in a frame of mind where they think strangulation is is ... is [likely] to escalate to other forms of violence.
"It makes you almost incapable to fight back. Your life is literally in their hands."
Dixon killed himself in prison in 2009.
Ultimately, she said, she was happy he was dead, after all he had done to her. "I'm really glad that he's dead. But I don't really feel anything towards him."
Women's Refuge's chief executive Ang Jury, who helped work on the report, said strangling was a reliable indicator of subsequent killings, and many people underestimated both the risk and how commonly it was happening.
"You can die a day of more after - the tissue in your throat swells with no external signs."
Law Commission president Grant Hammond said the fact that police attended more than 100,000 family violence callouts a year was a "horror figure".
The commission's review led it to believe the criminal justice system was not treating strangulation as seriously as it should, he said.
Senior legal and policy adviser Linda McIver said research indicated no one ethnic or age group was especially at risk of strangulation, or likely to perpetrate it.
The commission said making strangulation charges stand up in court could depend partly on victims' testimony, but there were also several types of physical evidence which could help prosecutions.
The commission recommended that, as well as becoming a standalone offence carrying up to seven years jail, strangulation should increase the sentence if it occurred during other violence.
Police should specifically record whether a family violence incident involved an allegation of strangulation, it recommended.
Police and judges should be educated about the signs and risks of strangulation. The offence should require proof of strangulation, but not proof of injury.
Lead review commissioner Wayne Mapp said the risks to victims were under-recognised.
"It means that people who are making decisions designed to keep women safe are not giving sufficient weight to a significant risk factor."
In at least half of all cases, choking did not result in an obvious external injury, even when victims suffered internal injuries or serious mental harm, he said.
"The perpetrators of strangulation are often getting away with a much lower sentence than they deserve."
Justice Minister Amy Adams welcomed the recommendation, which she said fitted within the Government's review of family violence laws.
She would take recommendations from the report to Cabinet in the next few weeks.