True North says it has identified strangulation as a form of unreported violence.

COLUMBIA − True North, a domestic and sexual violence victim service program in Columbia, is looking to implement a new protocol to better help victims.

Lynette Dziadosz, the court services manager for True North, said they have identified strangulation as a form of unreported violence. 

"So what we wanted to do here at True North of Columbia is implement a strangulation protocol," Dziadosz said. "And what we have done is we have brought in a lot of the key players in the community that includes Columbia Police Department, Boone County Prosecutor's Office, Women and Children's EMS, [Boone County] Joint Communications." 

Michelle Snodderlay, executive director of True North, is passionate about the implementation of the protocol as a survivor of a strangulation.

"And so when I got here in November, I was in conversation with the staff here and found out that they did a training, and started sharing a little bit about that," Snodderlay said.

The new protocol will add just a few more steps to help local law enforcement agencies identify victims. 

"It doesn't look the same for everybody," Snodderlay said. "So we come to the table and we talk about where can we improve in our area, and how can we refer or what can we do to help in this."

Both Snodderlay and Dziadosz hope those extra steps can help people experiencing abuse. 

"Strangulation doesn't always show on the outside," Dzuadosz said. "You don't see the hands around the throat, the fingerprints and the scratches or anything like that. We tend to confuse strangulation with choking a lot, but also for law enforcement to identify when they arrive on the scene, and they don't see anything physical, and the victim isn't very clear on what happened. That's something that's missed." 

In addition to working on the new protocol, True North is partnering with the Columbia Police Department and local schools to provide presentations to students on health communication skills.

"The earlier we talk about that, the more likely it is that we can prevent that or we can at least help people see those red flags," Snodderlay said. 

Domestic violence data

True North says it has identified strangulation as a form of unreported violence.

KOMU 8 filed a public records request with the Columbia Police Department and asked for the past four years of data relating to domestic violence. CPD shared this link with data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which compiles data from law enforcement agencies across the state.

Not all domestic violence victims come forward, call the police or make a report. This data only reflects those who file a report with authorities.

In the past four years, the Boone County Sheriff's Office has reported the following: 

  • 2020: 261 incidents, 282 victims
  • 2021: 294 incidents, 318 victims
  • 2022: 277 incidents, 299 victims
  • As of May 23, 2023: 92 incidents, 98 victims

In the past four years, the Columbia Police Department has reported the following: 

  • 2020: 911 incidents, 1,198 victims
  • 2021: 1047 incidents, 1,298 victims
  • 2022: 933 incidents, 1,194 victims
  • As of May 23, 2023: 295 incidents, 386 victims

Cap. Brian Leer of the Boone County Sheriff's Office said the difference in numbers between the departments is mainly due to covering different areas. The police department is the primary responding agency inside city limits. 

"Anything outside of the city of Columbia, that is unincorporated without a law enforcement agency is what we're responsible for," Leer said. "So for example, if something would happen in the city of Harrisburg, we would be the primary responding agency because they do not have a police force."

KOMU 8 asked Leer why incident numbers were different than victim numbers. He explained that the incidents coincide with the victims, but victims can vary depending on the incident. 

"You know, a prime example would be where somebody goes to a place and assaults five, six people, it's still one incident, but it's five or six victims," Leer said.

Both the Boone County Sheriff's Office and CPD saw similar trends over the past three years. From 2020, reports increased in 2021 and then decreased in 2022. 

Leer said he thinks the increase is partly due to more people spending time indoors with each other during the pandemic.

"Everything was locked down and people were working from home," Leer said. "You know, we do know that we tend to see when people are cooped up in the same households, they tend to get on each other's nerves a little bit more. And so people that are more prone to violence are more violent in an enclosed area."

Leer has similar thinking regarding the decrease of incidents and victims from 2021 to 2022. 

"I would only assume that along that same line of thinking that when things open up, people are out and about more, and they're not cooped up, and you see a little bit of a decrease," he said.

According to National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in nine men experience domestic or sexual violence. The coalition also reports that nearly 20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner here in the United States.

Even with these numbers, domestic violence is still underreported. 

"Even though people don't openly admit it, I would say the majority of people far know of or have been involved in domestic violence situations in the past," Leer said. "It's just so common, but it's one of those things like we were talking about earlier. I think there's an embarrassment part that goes with it, and a lot of people are just not willing to discuss it."

Although there was a decrease in incidents and victims between 2021 and 2022, Snodderlay said she wouldn't be surprised if numbers started to rise again.

"I think we're gonna see an increase, especially when you see changes in the economy," Snodderlay said. "Some of those risk factors are, you know, are there too, that also play a role in some of the stress that happens in the house as well."

True North hopes to implement the strangulation protocol in the upcoming months. 

If you are a loved one are in need of support, True North's crisis hotline can be reached at 573-875-1370 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Additional resources can be found here.

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