The intense media coverage following the tragic death of Gabby Petito and the recent discovery of the remains of her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, has drawn attention to what can only be called a continuing epidemic of domestic violence and death. abuse in America. To be clear, Laundrie has never been charged with Petito’s murder and has only been named a person of interest in his disappearance. But the case raises important and ongoing questions about the extent of domestic violence that Petito may have suffered and what, if anything, could have been done to prevent his death.
Whatever Petito’s death, the attention his case has garnered is a vital opportunity.
Regardless of Petito’s death, the attention his case has garnered is a vital opportunity to speak out about the need for a better collective understanding of the warning signs of domestic violence, which often go unnoticed. Too many people, including friends and family of a potential victim and sometimes even law enforcement or public health officials, miss out or do not recognize the red flags.
We to do I know that Petito’s cause of death was strangulation, a crime frequently associated with domestic violence. Strangling is a particularly insidious form of intimate partner violence, and non-fatal strangling is often a precursor to increasingly violent forms of abuse, including death. We also know that Petito and Laundrie got into a fight shortly before Petito’s death. But the discovery of Laundrie’s body in Florida, and the coroner’s autopsy report marking his death as “inconclusive,” means it will be incredibly difficult for Petito’s relatives and friends to get answers. The police will never be able to question Laundrie about Peito’s latest moves. This will hamper, if not totally, attempts to shut down his family.
Justice, unfortunately, can be difficult to obtain in this case. But if there is a silver lining, it’s the need for more public attention to alleged intimate partner violence at all times – not just when it may be a factor in a high-profile story. . Domestic violence transcends boundaries of gender, race and economic status. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in three women and more than one in four men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and / or stalking by an intimate partner during their life. Women of color are more likely to experience domestic violence than white women, but may be more reluctant to report it.
There are ways to combat this. First, across the country, law enforcement – including prosecutors and first responders – should receive specialized training on how to better identify warning signs of domestic violence, as we do here in the Westchester County, and respond in a way that encourages victims to speak out. This is especially true in cases where the signs are not obvious.
Prosecutors and police interviewing a potential victim of domestic violence should use a trauma-focused approach, in which investigators know the signs of trauma and abuse and understand how they may present themselves in the story of a victim. victim. Victims of domestic violence may have inconsistent memory of events and gaps in their recollection do not necessarily have to be equated with a lie. Fear, uncertainty and trauma can also affect how a victim describes their experiences and building trust can take time and consistency on the part of law enforcement. Appropriate training can make these initial interviews more productive and can put law enforcement in a better position to gain a victim’s trust.
Second, accessing domestic violence services should not depend on where you live or how much money you have. While many communities have spent enormous resources to address intimate partner violence, there is still a large inconsistency in the availability of these services. We know that economic insecurity is a major barrier to reporting for many victims of domestic violence, as well as the lack of access to service providers who specialize in such cases. According to a study by the Southwest Rural Health Research Center, “Rural and low-income communities are particularly affected by the lack of access to preventive services for women. [intimate partner violence], including access to regular health care and routine screening for [intimate partner violence]. “
Here, prosecutors are in a key position to help. Prosecutors and police are often the first people to speak with a victim and an essential part of this interaction is making sure victims know they will be protected and supported. It is important to note that this protection and support cannot end just because a case is resolved. Our duty to ensure the safety and protection of these victims extends widely and law enforcement must be committed to continuing to work with and support victims even when our criminal case is over or even when our criminal case is over. no arrests are made but danger warning factors are present.
Third, we must work to get guns out of the hands of abusers and the homes where domestic violence occurs. Obviously, as Petito proved, guns are only one piece of the puzzle of violence against women. But the presence of a gun in a home exponentially increases the risk of it being used in a domestic violence case. An assailant with access to a gun makes a woman five times more likely to be killed. In most states, prosecutors can issue firearms as a condition of protection orders, and prosecutors must ensure that offenders convicted of family offenses are enrolled in the national instant criminal background check system. of the FBI, or NICS, which verifies that a potential buyer does not have a criminal record or is not otherwise ineligible to purchase a firearm.
Currently, 19 states and Washington, DC, have “red flag” laws that allow courts to temporarily seize the firearms of anyone deemed to be a danger to themselves or to others. These laws allow family members and law enforcement to ask a court to temporarily remove the firearms of someone who has shown warning signs of violence. Keeping guns away from attackers can help keep victims alive.
And finally, we must call on our state legislatures to enact the laws necessary to help us bring these important cases to court. In our state of New York, we support legislation that would create a new crime of “domestic violence” in the penal code to ensure that the names of convicted domestic violence abusers are correctly entered into the NICS and that these abusers. be prevented from accessing deadly firearms. , as well as legislation allowing prosecutors to access sealed protection orders issued in previous domestic violence cases if the offender commits a new domestic violence offense.
But the responsibility for tackling domestic violence does not lie solely with prosecutors, the police or the legislature. We all need to be aware of any behaviors or signs that indicate that someone we know is suffering from domestic violence, including evidence of stalking, physical violence such as bruising or signs of strangulation, and changes in condition. emotional or mental health. Relationships strained by financial hardship, jealousy, controlling behavior, and attempts to quit can also be warning signs for anyone who knows someone who is being abused. Community education on domestic violence can help reduce the stigma associated with being a victim and will encourage greater reporting.
This weekend marks the last days of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Let’s work together to ensure that domestic violence stops being a silent crime. We don’t know who killed Petito, but it’s clear that she died a violent death. Her family deserves justice, and so do thousands more.