PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – The case of Gabby Petito, the missing 22-year-old woman whose body was found earlier in Wyoming this week, has brought the issue of domestic violence once again to the forefront of the nation’s collective conscience. While it’s not clear how Petito died, authorities are looking for her fiancé. The couple, who shared a home in Florida, had been on a road trip together. Police have said Brian Laundrie is not wanted for a crime, but investigators would like to talk to him. Body-camera video from when police stopped the couple after a report of a possible domestic incident has many people wondering domestic violence played a role in Petito’s death.

Autopsy confirms remains found in Wyoming are Gabby Petito's, FBI says
Domestic violence

Gina Maravilla spoke with Steven Miller of Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing domestic abuse and helping victims, about some signs that somebody might be in trouble and what to do in such situations. The indications of potential domestic are not always physical and can be subtle. “We know domestic violence takes many different forms, but it does feature some common elements and follows a pattern of progression,” Miller explained. “Typically, what we see first is emotional abuse … name-calling, belittling, criticism -- really anything that makes the victim feel small.”

Control is generally the next thing victims encounter. The perpetrator tries to isolate the victim by restricting their ability to connect with family and friends. It’s not just about people. The abuser often curtails the victim’s access to money and other resources, as well.

“From there, it really progresses into the most dangerous form [of domestic abuse] – physical violence,” Miller said. He explained that even when the abuse has gotten that far, there are places for the victim to go and people who can help.

Maravilla pointed out that there are inevitable fights and disputes in almost any relationship. “How do you know when it’s crossed over into the world of domestic violence versus just a terrible fight?” she asked. “It’s really hard to say because every case is so different,” Miller answered. If you are suspicious, Miller said there are some things you should do, as well as actions you should avoid. “It can be a very difficult conversation, but we practice ‘trauma-informed care,’” he continued. That starts with being there, listening, and asking questions.

“One of the long-term effects of trauma, particularly in DV spaces, is making the abnormal normal,” he explained. “Sometimes just getting someone to talk about their relationship – verbalizing it – can almost set off a ‘lightbulb moment,’ where they realize that this isn’t OK and this isn’t normal.”

Patience is key. It can take several attempts before a victim is comfortable leaving a dangerous situation, Miller said. “This is a very difficult decision for a lot of people to make. It’s a process.” Continued support is essential, as well. Blaming, shaming, and ultimatums by family, friends, and loved ones can make the situation infinitely worse for the victim.

One of the cornerstones of trauma-informed care is providing options. “If someone feels like they have options, they have hope,” Miller said. One of those options can be safety planning, which means helping the victim be ready if and when they decide to make a move. That includes making sure the car’s gas tank is full and the cell phone is charged, as well as having cash on hand, a packed bag of essentials, and arranging a safe place to meet those willing to help. “Those little things go a long way in making it ultimately successful.”

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