Illustration for article titled Why it matters that Marcell Ozuna was charged with strangulation

Image: Sandy Springs Police Department

Braves star outfielder Marcell Ozuna was arrested on Saturday. What little we know about the incident comes via the Sandy Springs, Ga., Police Department, who issued the following statement Saturday night:

Earlier today at 12:26 PM, Sandy Springs Police Officers received a 911 call requesting they respond to a residence on Windsor Cove regarding an assault in progress. As Officers arrived to the home, they heard screaming coming from inside and noticed the front door wide open. Due to the exigency of the known facts, Officers entered the residence through the front door and witnessed the suspect grabbing the victim by the neck and throwing her against a wall. Officers were able to immediately take the suspect into custody without further incident. In addition to the strangulation attempts, the suspect also struck the victim with his arm which has a cast from a previous injury. Preliminary investigation has revealed this incident to be domestic related between the suspect and his wife, both residents of the Windsor Cove home.

The suspect, Marcell Ozuna was arrested and has been charged with the following:

Aggravated Assault by Strangulation under the Domestic Violence Act

Battery under the Domestic Violence Act

The victim did have visible injuries, but was not transported to the hospital.

Overnight, Ozuna was held without bond, which is not uncommon and, in some jurisdictions, required when one party is arrested for domestic violence. A year ago, Ozuna’s wife, Genesis, was arrested for domestic battery, in which she allegedly threw a soap dish that hit Ozuna in the face and cut him. And while we don’t know all the details of what happened that night, it’s not unheard of for victims to wind up being prosecuted in abusive relationships.

But it matters that Ozuna was charged, not just with battery, but with aggravated assault strangulation, a felony charge in Georgia that the domestic violence community has been advocating for for years.

According to The Training Institute for Strangulation Prevention, while one in four women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, 68 percent of those women will suffer near-fatal strangulation. Nine percent of the women strangled will be pregnant at the time. Thirty-eight percent of them will lose consciousness. A full 70 percent of them will believe they are about to die.

Domestic violence workers are taught early on that domestic abuse is not about anger, it’s about power and control. In the case of strangulation, the abuser is controlling their victim’s access to life-sustaining oxygen; literally controlling, in that moment, whether the victim lives or dies.

Physical signs of strangulation are only visible in about 50 percent of non-fatal cases. Only 15 percent of those visible injuries showed up on photographs, debunking the popular myth that a victim without visible injuries or “proof” of physical abuse have actually been assaulted.

Strangulation can cause unconsciousness in a matter of seconds and death within a few minutes. But it’s what happens after a victim survives a strangulation event that is most horrific. In addition to suffering from PTSD, depression, memory loss, nightmares, anxiety, and psychosis, victims who are strangled are also seven times more likely to eventually be killed by their abuser. More than any other physical act, strangulation is a prelude to a future homicide.

More alarmingly, death can occur for strangulation victims days or weeks after the event itself, “due to carotid artery dissection and respiratory complications, like pneumonia, ARDS [acute respiratory distress syndrome], and the risk of blood clots traveling to the brain.”

In recent years, and as a result of the data listed above, prosecutors have been more aggressive in prosecuting intimate partner violence involving strangulation, especially after victims advocates have questioned why abusers who strangle aren’t charged with attempted murder. Prosecutors are also far less likely to drop charges for the failure of a victim to cooperate, especially in cases where the strangulation was witnessed by police officers, as alleged in the case with Ozuna.

Whether this case will ultimately be prosecuted is still a long shot. Most incidents of intimate partner violence aren’t even reported, much less prosecuted. And while Major League Baseball will investigate and likely level a suspension to the degree they see fit, it’s hard to imagine the standard 30-40 day suspension (the average MLB suspension is currently 43 games for violation of the league’s domestic violence policy) being adequate, if what the police have reported is indeed an accurate description of events. The longest MLB suspension to date is 100 games, the penalty levied against the Padres’ José Torres in 2018.

If you’re experiencing intimate partner violence, call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “SAFE” to the same number.