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Local Police Unsure New Domestic Abuse Law Will Have Strong Impact

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa It's taken victim advocates five years to change a specific domestic abuse law in Iowa. Strangulation or choking used to put batterers behind bars for only thirty days. On Wednesday, Governor Branstad signed a new law making the crime a felony charge and a year in jail.

Local police still wonder if this change is going to make a strong difference.

"We're putting the penalty phase in there when a majority of the cases don't even get to that," argued Sgt. Cristy Hamblin with the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

Hamblin says the real problem in these cases that needs to be addressed is simply getting the offender to court.

"They're going to bully the victims into dropping the charge to begin with," Hamblin says.

The police sergeant says she'd rather see more teeth in the prosecution. She argues a year behind bars is not enough to keep a true abuser at bay.

"We now have everyone on board and ready to enact this and to properly enforce it and carry it out," said Amber Markham, Director of Public Policy for Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Markham says their coalition has worked with police departments and paramedics across the state. Their goal was to teach them how to identify signs of choking, so that prosecutors could take up the case, even if a victim did not want to testify.

While gunshots account for more than half of domestic violence murders, strangulation is not far behind. It also ranks as the leading indicator an abuser will attack the victim again in the future.

"We're able to keep them off the streets away from their victims," said Markham. "By putting them in jail longer, there's less of a chance to gain access to the victim."

Hamblin says it may protect one victim but doesn't keep a serial offender off the streets.

"I applaud them for doing this," Hamblin said, "but make sure it goes all the way through the court to the courts so that there can be a prosecution so that there can be a conviction."

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