Strangulation. Strangulation means to compress a person's neck, thereby obstructing the person's blood flow or ability to breathe, or doing so with the intent to obstruct the person's blood flow or ability to breathe. Assaulting a person by strangulation constitutes Assault in the second degree, which is a class B felony. Depending on the circumstances, nonfatal strangulation may constitute attempted Murder in the first or second degree, both of which are class A felonies.
The term "domestic violence" generally refers to a crime committed by one family or household member against another, or by one intimate partner against another. There is no separate crime of domestic violence. Instead, prosecuting attorneys and courts rely on standard criminal offenses and supplement them with special procedures and penalties in cases involving domestic violence. Additional conditions may be imposed upon a person who commits domestic violence, including those pertaining to confinement and supervision, treatment, no-contact orders, and firearms.
Crime Victims Compensation Program. The Crime Victims' Compensation Program (CVCP), within the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), provides benefits to victims of criminal acts. This includes, for example, medical treatment, mental health treatment, lost wage replacement, and burial costs. To qualify for benefits, a person must have:
Benefits under the program are secondary to services available from any other public or private insurance, meaning the CVCP is the payer of last resort. However, sexual assault victims have a state statutory right to receive a forensic examination where a nurse with forensic training collects evidence for a sexual assault kit. These exams are conducted at no cost to victims and cannot be billed to their insurance providers. Instead, the CVCP directly reimburses medical facilities for these services. The qualifying criteria for obtaining benefits through the CVCP do not apply to these forensic examinations.
Crime Victims' Compensation Program Coverage for Forensic Examinations Involving Nonfatal Strangulation. Through June 30, 2023, a victim of domestic violence involving nonfatal strangulation may not be charged with the costs of a forensic examination performed for the purposes of gathering evidence for possible prosecution. Instead, the CVCP must directly reimburse the medical facility for the examination.
By October 1, 2022, the L&I must report the following information for fiscal year 2022 to the Legislature:
Best Practices for Forensic Nurse Examiners. The Office of Crime Victims Advocacy (OCVA) must develop best practices for local communities to use on a voluntary basis to create more access to forensic nurse examiners in cases of nonfatal strangulation assault including, but not limited to, partnerships to serve multiple facilities, mobile nurse examiner teams, and multidisciplinary teams to serve victims in local communities. The best practices must be completed and published by January 1, 2022.
The OCVA must also develop strategies to make forensic nurse examiner training available to nurses in all regions of the state without requiring the nurses to travel unreasonable distances and without requiring medical facilities or nurses to incur unreasonable expenses. The OCVA must submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature by October 1, 2022.
The provision allowing the CVCP to return to paying for nonfatal strangulation forensic exams after insurance in certain circumstances is removed.
The provisions pertaining to the development of strategies to make forensic nurse examiner training available across the state are modified. The strategies may not require medical facilities to incur unreasonable expenses. The strategies should take into account factors deemed appropriate and relevant by the OCVA as well as the unique challenges faced by medical facilities and nurses operating in rural areas. The OCVA must consult with the schools of nursing at Washington State University and the University of Washington when developing the strategies, in addition to other groups and interests specified in the underlying bill.
(In support) Domestic violence perpetrators who strangle their victims are incredibly dangerous and also extremely difficult to prosecute because victims often have no visible marks or injuries. These incidents require professional forensic medical examinations performed by forensic nurse examiners. Forensic nurse examiners can document unseen injuries. This is critical for any potential prosecution, but also for providing victims with treatment for injuries that can cause long-term issues. Forensic nurses provide trauma-informed, victim-centered care and can connect victims to critical services. However, these examinations are expensive. This bill increases access to exams by establishing a mechanism for the state to cover the costs and also expanding training throughout the state. Washington should lead the nation on providing support to domestic violence victims.
(Other) If the Legislature passes the bill, then it needs to appropriate additional funds to the CVCP in order to cover the costs of the examinations.