KSL+: Signs of intimate partner and domestic violence

Nov 4, 2021, 7:34 PM
Hundreds gathered across Utah Oct. 22, 2019, to remember victims and raise awareness of domestic vi...
FILE: Hundreds gathered across Utah Oct. 22, 2019, to remember victims and raise awareness of domestic violence and the resources available to victims.

Matt Rascon: This week on KSL+, it’s been more than a month since Gabby Petito’s body was found.

Official: Our initial determination is the body was in the wilderness for three to four weeks.

Matt Rascon: Last month, the Teton County Wyoming coroner wrapped up its investigation,

Official: We hereby find the cause and manner of death to be the cause of death by strangulation and manner is homicide.

Matt Rascon: Brian Laundry is the only person of interest in Gabby’s homicide. But as the FBI investigation continues, Gabby’s death and her relationship with Brian are shining a light on another important and difficult topic.

Unfortunately, this is all one of many deaths around the country of people who are involved in domestic violence.

I’m Matt Rascon and this is KSL+, and this week, we’re talking about domestic violence.

The issue hits close to home. There were 35 total domestic violence related deaths in Utah last year. 27 of them involved a firearm. According to the Utah Department of Health, more than 22% of homicide victims in the state in 2020 died in an intimate partner or domestic violence related incident. Nearly 86% were women.

Mourner: I want to welcome everybody to this celebration of life of Gaby Ramos.

Matt Rascon: Just last month police issued an arrest warrant for a man accused of shooting his ex fiance Gaby Ramos in Taylorsville.

Ramos family member: He started knocking then banging on the door that we had our two nieces in the house and so then my sister opened the door and told him to leave. And that’s when he shot her. It was a matter of seconds. Everything happened so fast. It was so fast.

Matt Rascon: Family members say if you use the somebody in that situation, please get help. He shot Ramos right to after an apparent argument about a ring.

Participant: Dating violence and stalking is a problem nationally, and it’s hasn’t been handled as well as it could have been on college campuses.

Matt Rascon: Three years ago in October, Lauren McCluskey was shot and killed by a man she had previously dated. Lauren was a student athlete at the University of Utah. On the anniversary of her death, students at the U, Utah State, SUU and more than 30 other colleges across the country participated in a memorial Walk to Remember Lauren.

Participant: I know that this issue of campus safety is so vital, so important, and raise awareness about campus safety and domestic violence.

Matt Rascon: If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help available. Utah’s domestic violence hotline is 1-800-897-LINK, that’s 1-800-897-5465

I talked to Liz Sollis, she is the spokesperson for the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

What the resources are, if someone’s experiencing it, and again, you know what we can do to prevent or stop it?

Liz Sollis: I think it’s important to say right off the top there are resources available to those who are in an abusive relationship.

Yeah, anybody who is in an unhealthy relationship who’s experiencing abuse or violence in their relationship, or even perhaps the person who’s committing the abuse or violence, our intent is to end the violence. And in order to do that we need to we need to work with both parties in that relationship or if there’s more than two individuals who are impacted by it all of those individuals, because we want to do what we can to help them have the skills to respond appropriately respond in a healthy way when their emotions are high, and to have healthy relationships.

Matt Rascon: We’ve all seen the case involving Gabby Petito, It stole the headlines for weeks, and it’s had this interesting effect–it seems of shining a light on other missing people and on those who are in an abusive relationship, which many say the evidence points to for Gabby, what what did you take from this case?

Liz Sollis: Um, don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a river of shock. So I think part of the reason a lot of people were So shocked by the situation with Gabby is that her online presence was primarily positive, right? Like, the activities she was engaged in, even her pictures with her partner, they were all very positive in nature, they were out living what my many consider the dream, traveling, you know the nation seeing some of our most amazing national parks, and sharing that experience with everyone else. And the thing we know about domestic violence is, most of the time, the violent behavior, the abuse, the threats of harm, that happens behind closed doors. And so I think that’s the hard part for people to grapple is they’re seeing one thing, and then having to understand that she might have been experiencing something completely different when the camera wasn’t on.

Matt Rascon: Yeah, we often see just the best side of things on social media. But how prevalent is domestic violence, specifically in Utah?

Liz Sollis: So in Utah for the last many years, we’ve had a higher rate of prevalence than we then other states in the nation, we know that one in three women in Utah will experience domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime, and one in seven men. That number was one in four for women nationally. However, during the pandemic, it mirrored the Utah experience, which was the one in three. And I think too, one thing to point out is, like, if you take the social media components, so you see social media, people look really happy. And some might say, well, what if my family member does not on social media, or my friend or loved ones, not on social media, but I think something happened, but how do I know a lot of times? It’s because they stopped coming to things, or they might cancel at the very last minute with, with what doesn’t really seem like, you know, a real good reason. And it might be because they’re healing, either emotionally or physically, from abuse or violence that they experienced at the hands of their partner. So you know, having conversations with people across the board, if you have instincts or feelings that something might be going on, if you can safely talk with that person. And, and do so without them being around the abusive partner, which can be difficult because isolation is huge when someone’s in an abusive relationship. Try to have those conversations have phone numbers ready to provide them so that when and after they’re ready to make that move, they’ve got the resources at hand.

Matt Rascon: Gabby’s homicide, of course, still under investigation, Brian has only been named a person of interest. But how often do these abusive relationships lead to death?

Liz Sollis: So we know that in more than 50% of the cases in the state of Utah, where a domestic violence related homicide occurs, there’s been a history of violence and that history of violence has been reported to law enforcement, and not always by the victim, sometimes it’s by a family member, or in the case of Gabby Petito, you know, someone else reported seeing or are hearing the altercation. So, I think that’s an important thing to note is that if we see or suspect that violence is taking place, just make that call to law enforcement, let that agency get in there so that they can assess it, connect that person with resources, and hopefully save a life.

Matt Rascon: Is there anything else as you watch Gabby Petito’s case unfold that was surprising or not surprising.

Liz Sollis: Um, I think it’s an important reminder that anybody can be a domestic violence, victim abuse can happen to anyone at any time at any point in the relationship. And so again, being there for those individuals, listening to them, when they are sharing with you what might be going on and not judging them, but instead asking what you can do to help them. And if you have those resources, connect them with them. If you don’t know those resources, find them out. I think too, it’s important to share that this doesn’t happen overnight, like most abusive relationships, it’s a very gradual descent. So you’ll many people will will experience for far greater amounts of time, a lot of emotional and verbal abuse, a lot of gaslighting, financial control where they don’t have any direct access to funds, they’re having to ask for permission to to use money to go places, sometimes even to wear certain things. So I think kind of paying attention to those things is as critical. And with strangulation, I also want to point out, so that is the cause of death that was identified by the coroner. And the thing with strangulation is it can kill someone immediately. But it also in some cases, there’s hours or days that passed before the person actually dies as a direct result of the strangulation. So what will happen is their organs closed down slowly looking for those signs. If somebody mentions in any way that this has happened to them, strongly encourage them to go be assessed by a medical provider because It is it is likely that they could have those very fatal consequences if they don’t get the proper help.

And I guess I would say to people need to stop being judgmental. However, we also need to encourage as many people as possible to notify law enforcement. I mean, just recently in Philadelphia, there was a sexual assault on a train. And it was 40 minutes before somebody actually, one other, someone else on the train actually called and reported it. So we need to report it, we need to not have that fear that by reporting it, we’re interfering with someone’s life? Or what if I’m wrong, maybe it’s not what I think it is. It’s way better to get somebody in there and let them have those conversations and assessing. It’s also safer to have a law enforcement provider or victims service provider be the one to intervene and work with the individual or family to get them to a healthy space.

Matt Rascon: Are there other lessons that we learned from this national story about things that maybe could have been been done better on the part of the public or law enforcement?

Liz Sollis: I think there’s always room for improvement. From what I saw with the responding officers and Ranger from National Park Services, I think, I think they did a good job. They spent a good amount of time with both of them, they asked a lot of questions. They were understanding, they were patient and separating. They they did what is, is helpful, which is when people are in a place where they’re not able to calm down or, or see, you know, find a neutral ground, they encourage them to stay somewhere different each of them that evening. And one bit of progress that a lot of people don’t recognize is that Gabby’s home was the van and Gabby stayed in the van. And for many years with domestic violence cases, especially with females as victims, they’re the ones who are expected to go find another place to stay, where the abuser often is, was allowed to stay in the home. So I think that’s progress. I think the other thing to point out is that the majority of people who access or seek support, don’t seek shelter, we do provide shelter is a very critical need. However, in most cases, people are seeking other types of support. So it could be assistance with a safety plan. So they could have a safety plan to stay safe in the relationship, a safety plan for if they’re preparing to leave and a safety plan for if they do leave. Because we do know, when someone leaves, there’s a greater likelihood that they could die. And it’s usually because it’s been an argument that has preceded the decision to leave. Right. And, and that is the same with homicides, there’s usually an argument before a homicide occurs. It’s not typically it’s premeditated, yes, but it’s not typically, you know, just out of the blue, there’s something that that happens. So I say premeditated, because many of these individuals have made lots of threats of harm or violence, and including violence using weapons to their victim prior to actually committing the act.

Matt Rascon: Or just thinking back on the numbers, you mentioned, one in three. In other words, we all know someone, correct?

Liz Sollis: We do. We all do. And you know, I was actually speaking with a friend this weekend, and we were just talking about a relationship that she had been in. And she said, it wasn’t until I got out that I realized how toxic our arguments were. And although they didn’t have physical violence, there was a lot of yelling, and just unkind, very unhealthy communication. And, like, a lot of people feel that way. A lot of people don’t realize until they’re out of it, that what they’re experiencing is not normal, it’s not okay. And that they there are other options out there for them. There are kind people there are healthy relationships, and, and, and we want everybody to have that, right. We want that to be the outcome. We don’t want a fatality to be the outcome ever. And then kids too, I think is another thing to think about as how intimate partner violence or domestic violence impacts children. We do know there are children who observe it sometimes on a daily basis. Again, many times the partners who are experiencing the violence might try to conceal it even in the home from the children, but we know kids can hear it or see it depending on what’s happening. But that that’s another factor to consider as well because when kids experienced violence that’s a childhood experience that can impact their adulthood and choices they make as they come into adulthood.

Matt Rascon: Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you think would be important to mention on this?

Liz Sollis: I mean, one of the old when I first studied social sciences, one of the things they talked about with domestic abuse or domestic violence, is that there’s, it’s a cycle of abuse. So there’s oftentimes the honeymoon period where everything’s really cheery, things are great, then you’ll get to the tension building period where things aren’t so good, you maybe are getting blamed for the victims getting blamed for a lot of things, there’s just you can tell that things are about to, you know, explode. And then you have the battering or the explosion stage of the relationship, where that’s exactly what’s happening. There’s violence, there’s fighting, and then to repair the relationship per se, they go back to the honeymoon phase, where they’re really endearing and buying gifts and apologetic, still blaming the victim, but but those are those phases remain in a relationship to this day. So I think that’s, that’s something to consider. And then power and control, I have to always include power and control, because whether a relationship is experiencing physical violence, or emotional financial, verbal control and violence, it’s always about power and control. So that is a primary factor. And one of the things we talked about recently with somebody was animal abuse. So we’ve had, we had a pretty high profile animal abuse case, earlier this year with a dog by the name of Dixie. And there was a proposal to push for Dixie law, to give more rights to the animals and to also help to prevent that abuse. But we do know, and studies have shown that people who torture animals or abused animals are more likely to commit acts of violence against persons. And many times an abuser will use the victim’s or the family animal, as leverage, if you will. So they may make threats, that they’re going to harm the animal or that they’re going to take the animal from them, they might actually be physically abusive to the animal, they may tell them just like with kids, if you leave, you’re not going to have the kids, you’re not going to have the animal, you’re not going to have all these things. So there’s so many different factors that we could all be paying a little bit more attention to. And by doing so we could hopefully intervene and prevent further violence.

Matt Rascon: I want to end where we started. There are resources there is help available for people in these relationships.

Liz Sollis: Absolutely. So there are resources around the state, people can call one 800 897 link, it’s 1-800-897-5465. That’s the Utah domestic violence hotline hotline or link line, they call it the link line because they connect people to resources in their community. They can also reach out to any of the domestic violence victims service providers in their community, all of these providers have a crisis line as well. So we do know during the pandemic, these lines and our link line side increase of about 20 to 50% of calls, depending on the location and that’s remained pretty steady. So yeah, reach out, help us available. There’s there are ways we can help people that they might not think we can you taught Domestic Violence Coalition has provided financial assistance for funerals, for moving for a variety of things, counseling that help people find a different path or stay healthy and safe and the relationship they’re in. And I guess the last thing I would remind people is these are adults. And we need to empower them to be part of to be to make that decision. We can’t make the decision for them as to whether or not they stay in a relationship, but we can’t be there for them and we can listen and we can be supportive and patient and be ready to provide support when when they reach out.

Matt Rascon: That does it for us this week here on KSL+, I’m Matt Rascon. We’ll see you again next week.

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KSL+: Signs of intimate partner and domestic violence