Departmental Papers (SPP)

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Journal Article

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Strangulation is a unique and particularly gendered form of nonfatal intimate partner violence, affecting 10 times as many women as men. Medical research documents multiple negative health outcomes of such victimization, and in the past decade nearly 30 U.S. states have enacted laws making nonfatal strangulation a felony. We extended prior work by using grounded theory in a qualitative study to explore women’s experiences of, thoughts about, and reactions to being strangled. Each of the 17 mostly well-educated and African American domestic violence shelter residents had been strangled at least once by an intimate partner; most had survived multiple strangulations. Despite other severe abuse and a high level of fear, all were shocked that their partner strangled them. Participants reported an intense sense of vulnerability when they recognized during the assault how easily they could be killed by their partner. Nonetheless, they seemed to think of strangulation, not as a failed murder attempt, but as a way to exert power. Efforts to extricate themselves from a “choking” largely failed and resistance resulted in an escalation of the violence. Moreover, strangulation is difficult to detect which, as participants observed, makes it especially useful to the abuser. The aftereffects permeated the relationship such that strangulation need not be repeated in order for her to be compliant and submissive, thus creating a context of coercive control.


Thomas, K. A., Joshi, M., & Sorenson, S. B. (2014). "Do you know what it feels like to drown?": Strangulation as coercive control in intimate relationships. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38(1), 124-137. doi: 10.1177/0361684313488354

The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Psychology of Women Quarterly, Vol 38/Issue 1, 2014, © SAGE Publications, Inc., 2014, by SAGE Publications, Inc. at the Psychology of Women Quarterly page: on SAGE Journals Online:


intimate partner violence, physical abuse, coercion, dominance, strangulation, victimization



Date Posted: 05 August 2014

This document has been peer reviewed.