Posted on: October 8, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Gabby Petito, in the last photo uploaded to her Instagram page.

By Mariah Trujillo, News Editor

When Gabby Petito first disappeared, most people did not expect her fiance to be named a person of interest in her murder; they were a “match made in heaven” after all.

Last week, Petito’s remains were found in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. The search for her fiance, Brian Laundrie, continues in a Florida nature preserve. While the case is tragic, it has brought attention to violence between partners.

Unfortunately, domestic violence is more common than we might think. And though the warning signs are usually there, they often go unnoticed, according to experts at Moraine Valley.

“According to the National Coalition on Domestic Violence, about 20-25 percent of individuals experience intimate partner violence which occurs when a person is being psychologically, verbally, physically, or sexually abused by their partner,” Souzan Naser, a Moraine Valley counselor said.

Brian Duffy, a former Oak Lawn police officer and current MV criminal justice professor, says he once knew domestic violence to be so common that it nearly fit into his daily routine. 

“I would guess my former department has at least one call every 24-hour cycle that may be labeled a ‘domestic disturbance,’” said Duffy. “This amount of regularity causes police to perceive DV as somewhat routine.”

Unfortunately, Petito seems to have become just another statistic. Over the summer, Petito had embarked on a nationwide road trip with Laundrie, promoting her blog and online persona along the way. However, when the lens shut, a different story was unfolding and tension between the two grew. 

Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie in a YouTube video documenting their trip through Utah.

On Aug. 12, as the pair traveled through Wyoming, the Moab Police Department was called to investigate a domestic violence situation between the two. 

Throughout this interaction, there were several warning signs that Petito had fallen victim to an abusive relationship. 

“My daughter’s name is Gabrielle (Gabby) and she has light hair, skin and eyes. This was so difficult to watch as a mother,” said Anna Rogers, another MV counselor.

“It appeared to me Gabby was possibly protecting her fiancé by blaming herself and her OCD for the incident that day. I saw her appear to be accepting any violent behavior as warranted because she either felt she provoked it or could explain it.”

Rogers said this kind of justification is not unusual.

“In some violent relationships the victim has already been conditioned to accept blame no matter what and has already developed coping mechanisms to keep themselves psychologically and physically safe,” Rogers added.

While the emotional trauma was on full display during the interaction, Petito also revealed there was a history of physical abuse. 

“When Gabby disclosed to the police that Brian grabbed her face, this would have been the perfect opportunity for the officer to probe more and ask if Brian had done that to her before,” said Naser.

Duffy had a similar opinion: “The fact there was physical violence between the two participants is a clear indicator this relationship needed examination.”

Petito wasn’t the only one hinting at their relationship being far from perfect as Laundrie himself displayed several suspicious behaviors of manipulation, the experts say.

“His narrative appeared to be oscillating between portraying Gabby as being aggressive and him wanting to be a gentleman to calmly resolve the conflict and manage the situation,” said Rogers. “Him asking to not have her be charged seemed to be an attempt to signal to law enforcement, he was the chivalrous victim.”

Abusers often manipulate the narrative in this way, she said.

“Abuse and violence can be insidious with abusers acting charming and seeming loving at times yet the victim may always have a ‘walking on eggshells’ sensation,” Rogers added. “An overt sign to me is someone protecting or defending destructive, violent or controlling behavior even when the violence increases in severity and or frequency. In my opinion that is as overt as a physical injury.”

Naser said the most common warning signs include the abuser controlling who the victim talks to, who they spend time with, what activities they engage in and even what they wear. However, domestic violence can range anywhere from emotional abuse and shifting blame to physical abuse including sexual assault. 

Images of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie during their interaction with the Moab Police Department on Aug. 12

It is also important to recognize there is no “one size fits all” description for a victim or an abuser, say the experts.

“DV does not discriminate. It impacts persons with disabilities, all socio-economic strata and is not exclusively a heterosexual problem,” said Rogers. “Any of us can find ourselves extending our boundaries past what we feel is acceptable behavior and treatment.”

To help prevent tragedies like Gabby Petito’s, Moraine Valley provides several resources to educate and aid those in domestic violence situations. Moraine has classes solely to help differentiate a healthy relationship from a toxic one, including the Intro to Domestic Violence class taught by Duffy. Moraine’s counselors also are always eager to help. 

For anonymous, confidential help at any time, you can always call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

“If your partner is not honoring your opinion or perspective and you do not feel consistently respected, empowered and equal in your relationship, ask yourself, ‘Am I moving away from a nurturing healthy relationship and toward a verbally, emotionally, physically abusive one?’” Rogers said. “If this is even a possibility, please get on the schedule to speak with a counselor as soon as possible.”

“You are not alone, you are not to blame. Feeling heard is the beginning of feeling supported.”

Emma Chudy contributed to this report.