Gabby Petito was strangled to death. While her case has opened up national discussion about partner abuse, experts hope that the tragedy will highlight a serious danger: potential strangulation in domestic violence.
Strangulation can be defined as the act of grabbing someone's throat and killing them. Domestic violence experts are becoming more confident in allowing the term to be applied to non-fatal situations.
According to Jane Doe Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, "When journalists correctly use the term'strangulation', they increase public familiarity with a particular form of abuse and recognize the severe short and long-term consequences of this kind of violence."
Experts say that assaults that aim to strip someone of oxygen are more common then most people realize. According to Dr. Eve Valera (an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who studies brain injury and intimate partner violence), a woman who is abused in this way by her partner has seven times the chance of being killed by that partner.
Valera stated that it was one of the most terrifying experiences women report when they are involved in intimate partner violence situations. It's all about power and control. . It's almost like saying, "I can take your lives at any time."
Petito's death was declared a homicide by the police last month. A coroner on Tuesday determined that Petito died from strangulation. After she vanished in Wyoming in August, the vlogger posted a video of her road trip with Brian Laundrie.
Laundrie also vanished since then. The FBI and police have both named him as a "person-of interest" in the case, citing reports that Laundrie was allegedly abused by her partner while they were on a trip together. In connection with her death, he has not been charged.
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"Unfortunately, this is only one death in a country that has domestic violence victims. It's regrettable that other deaths didn't get the same coverage," Dr. Brent Blue, Teton County Coroner, said Tuesday.
Brian Laundrie's sister requests that he turn himself in to help her family get out of this terrible mess.
Although it is impossible to prove that Laundrie was involved in Petito's murder or not, Valera stated that there were warning signs about violence in the relationship.
The Grand County sheriff's Office released an Aug. 12 911 call in which the caller stated that he saw the gentleman slapping the girl while the couple were in Utah.
After a fight on their cross-country road trip, Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie were caught on bodycam talking to Utah police.
Petito was seen in tears while being stopped by police on the side of the highway. The footage shows Laundrie speaking to a police officer. He said that friction had been building for several days. Authorities at the scene did not take any action except to tell the couple to end their relationship for the night.
Experts in intimate partner violence say that there should be more awareness of the potential risks of strangulation. Leigh Goodmark, an expert on intimate partner violence at the University of Maryland, said that one way to make the issue more serious is to distinguish between "choking” and "strangulation."
Valera said that domestic violence victims may claim they were "choked" because they believe "strangulation" has to be fatal or involve some form of restraint like a rope or another object. This can make it less serious for law enforcement officers and other members of the judicial system.
Goodmark stated that choking refers to eating food. In the context of domestic violence, "Strangulation" refers to when someone compresses another person's airway or restricts the flow of oxygen. It can be fatally or non-fatally.
Goodmark stated that "choking" is a way to minimize strangulation's effects and to avoid intentionality.
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Strangulation can cause a variety of symptoms in non-fatal cases. These include hoarseness and shortness of breath. Memory lapses, brain injury, loss of consciousness, and loss of consciousness. According to Valera's research, brain injury in domestic violence cases seems not uncommon.
Valera stated that "there are probably more women who have suffered repetitive, or even single, mild traumatic brain injury from their partners than professional athletes."
However, evidence of strangulation may not always be visible. Experts say strangulation could even cause death without leaving any external marks. It is therefore important to educate more people about the dangers of strangulation, intimate partner violence, and how to prevent them.
Valera stated, "It's so stigmatized people don't want it to admit it," and stressed the importance of communities being aware of the dangers.
Goodmark says that more people should be aware of the potential for strangulation by an intimate partner. This is a big red flag for future murder.
Goodmark stated, "We need to focus on prevention and education about what it means for you to experience strangulation in relation to your future risk."
Valera stated that intimate partner violence has "skyrocketed" during the coronavirus pandemic. According to Valera, this means that the number of women who have been strangled by their partners has increased. She suggested that we all should check in on one another, as intimate partner violence can happen without anyone being aware.
"It's always good for us to have a conversation. I know that COVID has made life very difficult and stressful for many families. Is your relationship safe? Are things okay? Valera said.
This article was originally published on USA TODAY. Gabby Petito was strangled. Experts believe it is common to experience intimate partner violence.