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Petito case sparks local conversation about domestic violence

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QUINCY (WGEM) -- With the search for Gabby Petito now over, the case is sparking questions surrounding domestic violence, and what possible role her fiancé played in her death.

Police in Utah responded to a physical altercation between Petito and fiancé Brian Laundrie less than a month before her family reported her missing.

According to NBC News, the responding officer wrote that Petito slapped Laundrie after an argument, but both she and Laundrie told the officer that neither wanted to press charges and that they loved each other.

But Quanada executive director Megan Duesterhaus said sometimes certain situations might seem to be one thing on the surface but are another thing in reality.

"When you know anything about domestic violence and know what you're looking for, you realize that it is fairly typical for the victim in the relationship to be the one when law enforcement gets there that seems to be hysterical, disorganized, possibly aggressive, very highly emotional," she said.

Duesterhaus said it can be easy to miss signs of abuse.

"I think, unfortunately, it's much easier to see in hindsight, the red flags that we might have missed," she said.

Common indicators that a relationship might be abusive include physical violence, sexual coercion, isolation from one's support system or family, strict control over one's finances and making threats against children or pets.

But she said, like in the Petito case, it can be difficult to determine if a relationship is abusive from the outside looking in.

"If you're looking at someone's relationship, you need to be in tune to is this person being isolated from their support systems, is this person having full control over their career decisions and their finances," she said. "There's a lot of other questions that need to be asked."

Duesterhaus said domestic violence is not a rare occurrence in Quincy.

To commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness month in October, Quanada will put on a lawn display by putting out almost 600 flags, one for each person they have helped through their domestic violence program in just the past year.

But Quincy Police Department officer Eric Dusch said the true number of domestic violence incidents is probably much higher because it's not always reported.

"There's just so many different aspects of why people don't report it and it's one of those that's typically not reported as much as other crimes," Dusch said.

A member of the Domestic Violence Council Team, Dusch said members train difference agencies on what to look for, and what resources to offer victims when sent to domestic violence calls.

"We're out there to help people actually break the cycle," she said. "It's a vicious cycle."

If you think a friend or family member is in an abusive situation, Duesterhaus said there are a few ways you can help.

"Just reserve judgement until you can really find out what is going on and just remaining as a supporting, listening, non-judgemental resource for the person who might be a victim in this situation," she said.

Also, keep reaching out and taking stock of resources you can offer.

"It doesn't hurt to come in with some resources and research already done on how you might help that person if they take you up on the offer because you never know when the time is going to be that they actually say, 'Yes, please come help me'," Duesterhaus said.

If you believe you are in trouble and need help, Duesterhaus said the Quanada crisis hotline is available 24/7 and staffed with trained advocates ready of offer a number of resources to those in need.

Quanada 24 Hour Crisis Hotline: (800) 369-2287

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Blake Sammann

Blake Sammann is a reporter and weekend anchor at WGEM News.

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