[Warning: Potentially Triggering Content]
When Moab, Utah police released body camera footage last month following an altercation between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, survivors of domestic abuse around the world knew without a doubt one thing: the 22-year-old vlogger had also been a victim of domestic violence.
As you’ve probably heard by now, officers had pulled over the couple during their ill-fated cross-country trip after receiving a call from an eyewitness about Laundrie slapping and hitting Petito near the Moonflower Community Cooperative on August 12. In the video, Gabby could be seen uncontrollably sobbing and taking the blame for the entire situation despite multiple witnesses stating she had been the victim. However, the police instead protected Laundrie at the time and sent him to a hotel for his protection. Soon after, Gabby disappeared and was later found dead in Wyoming. And following the tragedy, it has raised questions on what would have happened to the young woman if someone had pointed out the obvious red flags before or after police stopped them and got her to safety…
Speaking with Buzzfeed News Thursday, Kayla Walters, a survivor of domestic violence, recognized the tell-tale signs of abuse when Gabby grasped her face to demonstrate how her fiancé Brian had grabbed her after police released the video. She also knew the New York native was at risk of being killed by strangulation, explaining:
“If he could do that, he could go further. A lot of survivors thought the same thing … Just by her saying, ‘He grabbed my face’ … A lot of people that have been through it saw that as a big red flag.”
Sadly, Walters was right. As you most likely know, Wyoming’s Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue later revealed that she died by “manual strangulation/throttling.” The sad thing is she wasn’t the only one who predicted what happened, as strangulation survivor, Kit Hunt, told the publication:
“Everybody knew before the [coroner’s] report came out how she died.”
Now, in the wake of Gabby’s tragic death, Hunt and other domestic violence survivors shared with BuzzFeed News that they hope to shed light on how common strangulation is in intimate partner violence. Even more so, Hunt specifically hopped on online forums for survivors to share personal stories, resources, and warning signs following Gabby’s death:
“We need to talk about how common this is … How survivors are treated … We’re not believed … We focus on the crime, and then everybody forgets about it. We need more discussion, that’s what’s missing.”
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, strangulation is one of the most dangerous forms of domestic violence as it causes death within minutes. It is also a red flag for future deadly violence homicide by a partner. Per research from the National Institute of Justice, those who’ve been strangled or choked by a partner in the past are nearly 10 times more likely to be killed by them later on. President of the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention Casey Gwinn told Buzzfeed News in an email:
“Men who strangle women are the most dangerous men on the planet. Women are not strangled for the first time when they are murdered. They are always strangled multiple times before they are killed.”
Additionally, women of color are particularly at risk — especially Black and Indigenous women. According to Buzzfeed News, data found that 37% of Indigenous women experienced strangulation in domestic violence situations.
Kathryn Laughon, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Virginia, shared that burst blood vessels and lack of oxygen to the brain can cause blood clots, stroke, and other traumatic brain injuries for victims in the long term and non-fatal cases of strangulation. While choking is the most lethal form of domestic violence, the warning signs are actually hard to pick up on. But experts say they include, per Buzzfeed News, a partner putting their hands or objects around someone’s neck without consent, as well as someone demonstrating jealousy or control — whether that be tracking their location or separating the victim from loved ones.
If you’ve been following the case, then you know multiple friends have come forward detailing how toxic and controlling Laundrie had been through his relationship with Gabby.
However, Laughon also noted that the physical signs are also harder to identify than other types of assault since they’re “often more subtle,” which makes it difficult for those reporting and bringing forth a legal case. In case you didn’t know, signs include a raspy voice, burst blood vessels, difficulty breathing, red eyeballs, bald spots, ear ringing, bruising, swollen lips, facial drooping, and chest pain.
But strangulation victims sometimes don’t report in order to protect their abuser or lack of faith in law enforcement, making it all the more important for medical professionals and police to recognize the signs. Unfortunately, as we’ve come to learn from the Gabby Petito case, that doesn’t always happen. CEO of the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention Gael Strack said:
“We have been training on these issues for 25 years. Strangulation in domestic violence is a gendered crime. Men strangle women. Women virtually never strangle men. Police training on strangulation should be mandatory. When officers are well trained, we can prevent domestic violence homicides.”
Again, if things were handled differently, Gabby and so many other victims of domestic abuse may be here today. Here’s hoping this case will push to make meaningful change to truly help those suffering from domestic violence going forward.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for support.
[Image via Fox 13 Tampa Bay/YouTube]