LONG ISLAND, NY – The image of Gabby Petito’s tear-streaked face is etched in the hearts and minds of millions around the world, a new video unveiled last week capturing her trembling voice as she touches the ‘scratch on her face, still tender, where, she told police, the man she loved had grabbed her.
A few days later Gabby was gone, her death a homicide. And while it has not yet been determined whether her boyfriend Brian Laundrie killed her, her blue eyes and bright smile have become a symbol, a rallying cry against domestic violence – as advocates plead for change.
For Noemi Sanchez of East Hampton, the Gabby Petito story haunts: Sanchez was beaten, stabbed and then shot in the head with an air rifle by her ex-boyfriend in 2011. But she survived and now spends her life defending other women under similar horrific circumstances. .
Watching Petito’s videos, she said, “is so difficult. Sometimes when the victim is in this situation, she feels like no one is with her. But when you go out you understand that you are in this situation. have a lot of people around you. “
Often women are afraid to seek help or advice – and the pandemic, she said, has made the problem of domestic violence even more serious. “Depression, loneliness, you don’t feel supported. You feel like you’ve lost everything,” Sanchez said.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and advocates at The Retreat in East Hampton spoke with Patch about what people can do if they suspect a woman is a victim.
“October is domestic violence awareness and it couldn’t be more timely,” said Loretta K. Davis, executive director of The Retreat. “With the recent tragic case of Gabby Petito from Suffolk County, it is essential to know what you can do to help friends and family who have unhealthy and dangerous relationships. It’s time to spread awareness of healthy relationships, what’s okay and what’s not in a relationship, speak out against violence, support and not judge survivors. “
Helen Atkinson-Barnes, director of prevention education at The Retreat, also spoke with Patch.
“The retreat joins the community in our deep sorrow over the passing of Gabby Petito from Suffolk County. Sadly Gabby’s story is commonplace,” she said.
The Center for Disease Control views partner violence as a public health epidemic, Atkinson-Barnes said. In the United States, about 1 in 4 women and almost 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lives, according to the CDC’s Intimate Partners Survey and sexual violence, published in 2010.
Laura Ahearn, Crime Victims Center / Parents For Megan’s Law, presented the 2021 “Take A Stand” initiative against domestic violence, including awareness raising activities, information sessions and a social media campaign.
According to a statement from the organization, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the United States, or more than 10 million per year. In 2018, partner violence accounted for 20% of all violent crimes – and intimate partner violence is more common among women aged 18 to 24, according to the release. In addition, nearly 21 percent of high school girls and 13.4% of men report having been physically or sexually assaulted by a romantic partner.
However, very often people do not make the connection between cases in the national spotlight, such as Gabby Petito’s, “which end in extreme violence and death, and the more common forms of abuse that occur. produce every day for so many people, ”Atkinson- says Barnes.
She added: “Abuse often goes unrecognized. Abusive relationships are usually unbalanced.”
For example, she said, one person often uses various tactics to control the other or treats her as a possession or an object. They often involve a lot of manipulation, including gas ignition and seclusion from family and friends, she said.
And, while many wonder why a person who has been abused doesn’t just leave, “Even when it’s clear, an abusive partner can make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the abused person to leave the relationship safely. security, ”Atkinson- says Barnes.
Part of the challenge is helping people recognize the less obvious signs of abuse, including jealousy, control, privacy breaches, including digitally – with passwords and location tracking – and isolation, which can be mistaken for the “passion” or romance of a constant unity. and a total absence of limits, she added.
“Understand that people won’t necessarily tell you that they are being abused and will often try to hide it, so it’s important to recognize the signs,” Atkinson-Barnes said. “Often times, an abuser will find excuses or blame their partner.”
If there is any suspicion that someone might be a victim of domestic violence, Atkinson-Barnes offers advice on what to do: “Show solidarity and start a conversation. be traumatic or pass judgment. Avoid responding with a shock or tone of disbelief. Avoid asking “why” questions, including “Why aren’t you going? Which may imply that the person is at fault and may communicate a lack of understanding of the depth of the challenge they are experiencing.
Instead, Atkinson-Barnes outlined questions that could be asked, including:
- “Do you feel secure in your relationship?
- “Is there anything I can do to help you?” ”
- “I’m here if you want to talk about it.”
- “Thank you for telling me.”
- “No one deserves to be treated like this.”
- “Assistance is available for you. ”
- “Is it safe for you to go home?” ”
The retreat works with first responders, medical professionals and law enforcement, to support those in abusive relationships, she said.
“We recommend helping to hold those who experience abuse accountable – starting with opening the door to a conversation, ensuring confidentiality so they can share safely, and avoiding inadvertently blaming victims for the abuse they are taking. ‘they are undergoing,’ Atkinson-Barnes said.
The retreat offers free counseling, legal services and shelter for those who are victims of violence.
The Retreat’s 24-hour hotline is at 631-329-2200.
The retreat also offers age-appropriate prevention education programs in schools as well as with community groups, including health professionals and law enforcement. The Retirement Teen Leadership Council has helped develop new awareness materials for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Atkinson-Barnes said.
Statewide, Gov. Kathy Hochul also announced Domestic Violence Awareness Month, with $ 6.5 million in grants administered by the State Office of Children and Services. the family to help survivors of domestic violence and support prevention initiatives.
She also unveiled a new public awareness campaign “Technology Security and Innovation for Survivors,” which will highlight the role of technology in abuse, she said.
“We have come a long way since my mother stood up for survivors of domestic violence, but our mission to end the abuse and suffering that too many people have had to endure is far from over,” Hochul said. “Our systems must evolve and we must continue to offer innovative solutions to meet the needs of survivors and families, wherever they are.
Administered by the National Office for Children and Family Services, the $ 6.5 million will support two initiatives:
- $ 4.8 million to 79 vendors statewide to provide housing for survivors of domestic violence.
- $ 1.7 million to five non-profit organizations that offer domestic violence prevention programs. Each of these programs will receive $ 342,380, including The Retreat, Inc. in East Hampton.
The problem, experts say, while one of the last remaining stigmas is one that cannot be ignored.
According to LI Against Domestic Violence, 31.7% of New York City women and 29% of men experience physical or sexual violence from their intimate partner or harassment from their intimate partner in their lifetime.
“These statistics represent only the reported cases,” the organization said. “We know the numbers are much higher. You are not alone. It is not your fault. Ask for help.”
Sanchez, the years of abuse behind her, says the Gabby Petito story hurts her mother’s heart.
“I have daughters the same age as her, and I tell them, love each other first, and then you find the right fit,” she said. “You might be pretty, but the real beauty is in your heart.”
After going through the darkness of abuse, Sanchez said. “When you survive, the best example is yourself.”
And now, she said, Gabby Petito’s story will resonate for years to come. “She will teach others,” she said.