CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - For four days this week, 130 professionals in the greater Charlotte area who work with domestic violence victims are getting an intense training about strangulation in domestic violence.
"We have police officers. We have prosecutors. We have judges. We have magistrates. We have advocates. We have doctors and nurses. We have therapists. We have batterers intervention professionals," said Casey Gwinn, President of Alliance for Hope International. "It's a very diverse group of people and quite a number of survivors of strangulation assaults are here as well."
Gwinn, who is leading the training, says "we're trying to teach them how to handle these cases that we've failed on across America for decades. The most dangerous men on the planet strangle women in intimate relationships."
Gwinn added, "we call it choking. Victims call it choking but it's really strangulation. You put pressure on somebody's neck that cuts off air flow or blood flow that's a strangulation crime. It's become a felony under North Carolina law but it's very rarely getting prosecuted because you can strangle somebody almost to death with no visible injury which means there's no evidence or so you think until they go through this training and learn the injuries may be internal not external and they may not show up for days later and we've got to do that follow up investigation so we're teaching how to work in a team in order to handle these cases well."
Gwinn says part of the training is about teaching what questions to ask and what questions not to ask.
And, he says professionals have to understand the symptoms of strangulation because victims lose oxygen to their brain and don't remember what happened.
"And then when they say to police officers I don't know what happened, police officers think they're lying or they're making up a story," Gwinn said. "There's all these gaps – the gaps in the story is the evidence of the crime not a weakness in the case."
There's a piece of critical information that Gwinn wants the public to know.
"The strangler is not the same guy as the guy who slaps a woman," he said. "The guy who slaps a woman in the face is a jerk. The guy who strangles her is a killer and that message has to get out there."
"In September of 2010 after a small argument with my husband, he did strangle me in front of my daughters who were 10 and 11 at the time," Kymberly Davidson said. "The process ending up breaking my neck and now I'm suffering permanent neck damage."
Davidson, now a domestic violence advocate, told her story to the professionals gathered for the training.
Married for four years, she says she never thought her of relationship as abusive. But in hindsight, she saw the signs.
"More emotional abuse – he had never physically put his hands on me but he did use a scare tactic," she said.
Davidson says she left her husband and got a restraining order.
"Just knowing that my daughters witnessed something as heinous as that - that was motivation enough" she said.
She says as nervous as she was recounting her story, she believes the strangulation training is badly needed.
"The community needs to be aware of the different signs of abuse as well as the different types of abuse. With that being said, once that's out there and professionals are aware as to how to acknowledge it and how to possibly charge for it properly I believe that will be a beginning to put an end to the problem," Davidson said. "The professionals need to be trained. They need to listen to the victim and they need to be willing to find that common ground with the victim."
She says as an advocate meeting with a victim, she tells her story of being strangled and paints the picture the victim may be in.
"I don't hesitate to let someone know the next attempt could be your last," Davidson said. "Your life could be taken."
Gwinn says research and evidence show how dangerous a strangler is.
"The rage of a man who would strangle a woman is the same rage of a man who would fight with a police officer, shoot a police officer, attack other people so we're really trying to educate both victims and offenders about this," Gwinn said. "If you're a rage filled man – you grew up in a home with violence and abuse – you ever put pressure on a woman's neck, you need to get immediate mental health assistance because if you continue this you'll end up in prison because you're not going to get away with it anymore because everybody is learning how to handle these cases now."