The Dress That Broke the Internet: Strangulation Case a Decade Later

Have you seen this dress? Nine years ago, the internet was ablaze with a debate over its color.

Was it black and blue or white and gold? This question captivated millions, leading to countless arguments, memes, and even scientific discussions. The dress, worn by a guest at a wedding, became an overnight sensation and an enduring cultural reference point. To this day, nearly 10 years later, that dress will still pop up in online discussions.

In February 2015, a photo of the dress was posted online by Caitlin McNeill, a friend of the bride and groom. The image quickly went viral as people disagreed vehemently over the dress’s colors. It wasn’t just a simple optical illusion; it became a topic of scientific inquiry as experts weighed in on how human vision and brain processing could interpret the same image so differently. This phenomenon was due to how our brains perceive color in varying light conditions, highlighting individual differences in perception and cognition.

Fast forward to today, and the story of “the dress” has taken a dark and tragic turn. Keir Johnston, the groom at the wedding where the dress gained its fame, has recently been sentenced to jail after admitting to strangling his wife. This development has shocked many who remember the lighthearted internet sensation and brings to the forefront the serious issue of domestic violence, particularly strangulation.

Court documents reveal that Keir was indicted after pinning his wife to the ground and sitting astride her during an assault in March of 2022. Documents stated that he repeatedly placed his hands around his wife, Grace’s, neck – restricting her breathing. He also verbally threatened to kill her.

Strangulation is not just a method of physical assault; it is a severe form of domestic violence with potentially deadly consequences. It is a significant predictor of future lethal violence, with victims who have been strangled being ten times more likely to be killed by their partner later. This form of violence is particularly dangerous because it can cause serious injury or death within minutes, even if there are no visible external injuries. It is also considered to be one of the most personal ways to attack a victim, since it requires close, prolonged physical contact.

If your partner has ever put their hands around your neck, put you in a “sleeper hold,” or wrapped anything like a scarf, necklace, belt, or rope around your neck, you have experienced strangulation.

Strangulation can lead to a range of physical and neurological damage, including:

  • Brain Damage: Lack of oxygen to the brain can cause long-term neurological issues, including memory loss, cognitive dysfunction, and emotional instability.
  • Vascular Damage: Strangulation can cause blood vessels to burst, leading to strokes or other cardiovascular issues.
  • Breathing Problems: Even if the victim survives, they may suffer from ongoing respiratory issues due to damage to the trachea and lungs.

Beyond the physical dangers, strangulation carries significant psychological trauma. Victims often experience severe anxiety, PTSD, depression, and a heightened sense of fear and vulnerability. The threat of strangulation is a form of control and intimidation that can leave lasting emotional scars – even if there are no physical indicators of violence.

Even though it is possible to die from strangulation without showing symptoms, physical symptoms can occur, and it’s important to recognize them. They can include:

  • a sore throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • neck pain
  • hoarseness
  • bruising on the neck or behind your ears
  • discoloration on your tongue
  • ringing in your ears
  • bloodshot eyes
  • dizziness
  • memory loss
  • drooling
  • nausea or vomiting
  • difficulty breathing
  • incontinence
  • a seizure
  • changes in mood or personality, like agitation or aggression
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • changes in vision, such as blurriness or seeing double
  • fainted or lost consciousness
Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

Since strangulation is so dangerous, it’s important to have a safe way to document the abuse. It is strongly recommended you consider seeing a doctor if your partner has strangled you. Also, know that you always have the right to file a police report, press charges for an assault, or seek a restraining order against someone who is choosing to be abusive towards you.

The recent news about Keir Johnston is a grim reminder of the realities that can exist behind the scenes of public personas and viral fame. Johnston’s admission of strangling his wife is a stark departure from the viral fame he once enjoyed.

This case underscores the importance of addressing domestic violence in all its forms. It is crucial for communities to recognize the signs of abuse and provide support for victims. Strangulation should be taken seriously by law enforcement, medical professionals, and society at large due to its lethal nature.

The story of “the dress” and what followed is a poignant reminder of how viral fame can mask the realities of personal lives. While the internet was caught up in the debate over color perception, a much darker life was unfolding behind the scenes.

As we continue to reflect on the viral sensation that was “the dress,” let us also remember the importance of supporting victims of domestic violence and taking steps to prevent such tragedies from occurring.

If you need any additional information, have a question, or a concern, feel free to reach out to Options at our 24-hour toll-free helpline 800-794-4624. You can also reach an advocate via text by texting HOPE to 847411 or click 24-Hour Chat with Options.

Written by Anniston Weber

This project was supported by subgrant number 24-VAWA-07 awarded by the Kansas Governor’s Grants Program for the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice’s STOP Formula Grant Program. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of the Kansas Governor or the U.S. Department of Justice.