Missoula law enforcement has seen an increase in the number of domestic violence and assault cases that include choking or strangulation, a trend that troubles experts.

Psychologist Dr. Michael Scolatti, Phd, who specializes in dealing with sexual offenders, spoke to KGVO news on Friday about the preponderance of cases that involve the act of strangulation.

"What we primarily see is that the person wants to exert maximum power and control over the victim, as well as to discharge their anger," Scolatti said. "Over the course of time as the attacks keep going, the violence often escalates and I think that's what you're seeing."

Scolatti said the abuser sees the return of the victim to the relationship as permission to continue or increase the level of violence.

"If you come back and I'm the perpetrator, I'm thinking, 'It wasn't that bad.' It reinforces everyone of my defense mechanisms, my cognitive distortions that what I'm doing to you isn't that bad, because if it was that bad, you wouldn't have come back," said. Dr. Scolatti. "To a woman, I would say the level of violence has reached a dangerous place, and that the next time he does something, he could kill her, especially if he is under the influence of alcohol or drugs."

As this story is being written on Friday afternoon, yet  another man, 20 year-old University of Montana student Gage Stroop, appeared in justice court, charged with assault, after allegedly strangling his girlfriend so badly, she thought he was going to kill her.

Dr. Scolatti said the men who strangle their partners need to recognize that they need help.

"The perpetrators need to recognize that they have a really serious problem," Dr. Scolatti said. "I normally work with sexual offenders, and it's easier to work with sex offenders because they can't justify their actions like those involved in domestic violence. They're always claiming 'she did this or she said that, and she made me so mad'. That's part of the main treatment to defeat those distortions.

Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst has sent many of her deputies to special training to address the problem of strangulation, so that they can better address the special problems the victims face, as well as acknowledging the escalation of violence that could end in a homicide.

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