UCF Research Provides Tools for Prosecuting Domestic Violence

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey (center) and members of the Brevard County Strangulation Project.

New, potentially life-saving research from the Department of Sociology is reshaping the way law enforcement approaches domestic violence.

Specifically, an associate professor and doctorate students are working alongside investigators with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office to identify signs of strangulation and collect valuable forensic medical evidence to corroborate the potentially lethal attacks. The risk of homicide increases 750% for women after they experience non-fatal strangulation, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine.

UCF research is improving those odds in Brevard County by helping investigators identify forensic evidence of strangulation with greater accuracy.

“Strangulation is typically thought of as a method of murder, but that is not always the case. Strangulation is often used as a means of controlling an intimate partner and if it happens once, it is likely to happen again,” explained Associate Professor Amy Reckdenwald, Ph.D. “This is when it becomes a dangerous pattern that can lead to death. We need to learn how to identify victims and prosecute offenders before it is too late.”

The Brevard County Strangulation Project got its start in 2014 when Jessie Holton, ’10 ’12MS ’15EdD, a former Brevard County Special Victims Unit Agent, brought the idea to the department’s attention. This intrigued Reckdenwald, who takes a special interest in intimate partner homicide.

“Essentially I came looking for faculty in UCF’s Sociology Department that could help me with this research initiative,” said Holton, who now serves as a police officer in Bozeman, Montana. “I designed the project because I saw a need for it. The program has no doubt saved lives, expanded research and is setting an example for other law enforcement agencies across the country. I am really proud of it.”

The game changer is stronger corroborating evidence, identified first by law enforcement, next by forensic nurse examiners and later used to bolster a prosecutor’s case. Compared to pre-project prosecution data from 2011-2013, criminal prosecution of strangulation cases in Brevard County from Nov. 1, 2015-Oct. 31, 2016 increased almost 52%. Also, more cases were likely to be charged with the felony charge of domestic battery by strangulation than the misdemeanor domestic battery.

The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office plans to continue training investigators for the foreseeable future.

“The positive outcomes of the project show that something can be done to prevent non-fatal strangulation and hold offenders accountable,” said Reckdenwald. “This program should be implemented in every police agency in Florida.”






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