Gabby Petito, who was strangled to death, died. And while her case has opened up national conversation about partner abuse, experts hope the tragedy will shine a spotlight on a serious danger: Potential strangulation in domestic violence. 

Strangulation can be defined as the act of squeezing someone’s throat and killing them. Experts in domestic violence believe the word should be loosely applied when the situation is not fatal.

“When journalists correctly utilize the term ‘strangulation,’ they increase the public’s familiarity with a specific form of abuse and acknowledge the severe short and long term consequences of this type of violence,” according to a media guide by Jane Doe Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

Experts believe that assaults that aim to cut off oxygen flow are far more frequent than many people realise. A woman who has been assaulted in such a way by a partner has a sevenfold risk of being murdered by that partner, according to Dr. Eve Valera, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who studies intimate partner violence and brain injury.

Valera stated that it was one of the most terrifying experiences women report when they are involved in an intimate partner violence situation. It’s all about control and power. . .It’s sort of of like saying, ‘I can take your life at any moment.'”

Petito died last month as a result of homicide. A coroner on Tuesday determined that Petito was strangled to death. After she vanished in Wyoming in August, the vlogger posted a video of her road trip with Brian Laundrie.

Laundrie vanished also. The FBI and police have both named Laundrie as “person of concern” because of previous reports that he was involved in domestic violence. In connection to her death, he hasn’t been charged.

Brent Blue, Teton County Coroner said Tuesday that “Unfortunately, this is just one of many deaths across the country of individuals who are involved in domestic violence and it’s regrettable that these other deaths didn’t get as much attention as this one.”

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Although it is impossible to prove that Laundrie was involved in Petito’s death, Valera stated there were warning signs about the violence within their relationship.

While the couple was in Utah, the Grand County sheriff’s office released a 911 call on Aug. 12 in which the caller says he witnessed that “the gentleman was slapping the girl.”

Body camera video showed Petito in tears during a police stop on the side of a highway. The footage shows a police officer speaking with Laundrie, who said friction had been building between the two for several days, though authorities at the scene took no action other than telling the couple to separate for the night. 

Experts on intimate partner violence believe there must be greater awareness regarding the dangers of strangulation. Leigh Goodmark from the University of Maryland, where she teaches Gender Violence Clinic said that it is possible to treat the topic more seriously by distinguishing between “choking,” and “strangulation.”

Valera pointed out that some domestic violence victims might report being “choked,” as they may believe the “strangulation”, which must involve a fatal object or an object like rope or another restraint to be considered “strangulation.” This could lead to the law enforcement agencies and other members of the judiciary system not taking the situation as seriously.

Goodmark stated that choking refers to eating food. “Strangulation” in the context of the domestic violence discussion is when someone uses their hands, another body part or an object to compress another person’s airway and restrict the flow of oxygen – fatally or non-fatally.

Goodmark stated that “choking” is a way to minimize strangulation’s effects and intentionality.

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Strangulation may cause non-fatal symptoms such as hoarseness or shortness in breath. According to Valera, brain injuries in domestic violence cases are not common.

Valera claimed that there are more females who were subject to repetitive brain injuries, some of which may have been single, but they could be mild, from their partner than professionals athletes.

However, evidence of strangulation may not be always obvious. Experts say strangulation could even cause death and leave no external marks. This is why education about intimate partner violence prevention and strangulation is so important.

“It’s so stigmatized that people don’t want to admit it,” Valera said, emphasizing the need for communities to be aware of the risks.

Goodmark says that more people should be conscious of the fact that one instance of strangulation by an intimate partner can signal future homicide.

Goodmark stated that “We must be focused on prevention” and educated about the dangers of strangulation.

During the coronavirus pandemic, intimate partner violence — and its severity — has “skyrocketed,” Valera said. According to Valera, this means that the number of cases in which women are strangled have increased. We should all be monitoring each other because intimate partner violence is possible without any one realizing. 

“It’s always good to open up the conversation, ‘I know that COVID has made things very stressful and bad for a lot of families and people. Do you feel safe with your partner? Is everything okay? Valera said. 


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