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Domestic assault not considered violent in Oklahoma

Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-02 06:01:24-04

OKLAHOMA — In Oklahoma, there is a list of 51 crimes that are considered "violent" by law.

Murder, kidnapping, rape and armed robbery are a few of the obvious that made the list.

Domestic assault and battery did not make the list.

"Hard to imagine, right?" Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said.

Women who have been through it find it hard to believe, especially knowing what they went through.

"I'll never forget the feeling of my body getting weak and screaming trying to fight him off," a domestic violence survivor said.

We are not identifying the woman for her safety and because she has a pending case against her ex-boyfriend.

About six months into their relationship, the woman said the abuse started. In the last three months, it was daily.

The survivor said the most traumatizing part, by far, was being strangled. She still has nightmares about it.

"Whether it would be pushing me down, getting me on my back, one hand around my throat and the other covering my mouth, because I would be screaming for help, trying to quiet me or over my nose and mouth so there was no breathing," she said.

The woman said the abuse could happen because her boyfriend did not like what she cooked for dinner or because she took an extra 15 minutes at the grocery store.

She said she remembers wondering if he would let go of her neck in time. The woman said he rarely left a mark, but she took pictures of it when she did. Specifically, she remembers thumbprints on her neck.

"It doesn't get any more lethal than that," Kunzweiler said.

He cannot understand how assault and battery make the list of violent crimes, but when it is domestic it does not.

For the crime to be classified as "domestic", the abuser has to be "a current or former spouse, a present spouse of a former spouse, a former spouse of a present spouse, parents, a foster parent, a child, a person otherwise related by blood or marriage, a person with whom the defendant is or was in a dating relationship as defined by Section 60.1 of Title 22 of the Oklahoma Statutes, an individual with whom the defendant has had a child, a person who formerly lived in the same household as the defendant, or a person living in the same household."

Kunzweiler said victims of strangulation are much more likely to be victims of a homicide later.

"Somebody could commit assault and battery with intent to kill and not be related and that punishment is greater, but if you're related, boyfriend girlfriend those kinds of things, the punishment is less," Kunzweiler said. "That makes no sense to me."

He said the classification affects the sentence length. Offenders convicted of a non-violent crime face less time behind bars than a crime that is considered violent.

"There is any number of cases that you and I would probably look at and say, 'Of course that's violent. of course there is a risk to the public,'" Kunzweiler said.

That is why he sits on the Oklahoma Council for Criminal Justice Reclassification. Kunzweiler wants to get rid of the violent and non-violent classifications. He said a standard list of crimes does not take into account the details of each case.

"We the prosecutors and certainly victims," Kunzweiler said. "We know what's violent."

The survivor we spoke to knows what is violent too.

"It's one of the most violent things I've ever experienced in my life and I don't think I could ever experience anything that violent again," she said.

She said she will never be the same because of it.

Right now, the sentence for someone convicted of domestic assault and battery by strangulation ranges from one to three years. That leaves survivors on edge knowing their abuser could get out and come after them or find another victim.

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