Maisha Colter, the CEO of Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, said fear and shame dominate the life of a domestic abuse victim.
When assessing police body cam footage captured weeks before she went missing, Colter said Petito's demeanor is what stood out to her.
Moab Police Department in Utah responded to a domestic dispute incident between Petito and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, pulling them over in their van.
PREVIOUS STORY: Video shows Gabby Petito's police encounter before disappearance
"What I am concerned, what may have been happening (is) something that is typical of domestic abuse, which is making excuses for your abuser," said Colter. "Protecting them when they are confronted about their abuse."
The officers are seen separating Petito and Laundrie, before taking both their accounts, something Colter says is critical.
"I've seen (it) with my own clients," Colter said. "They say one thing when they are in close proximity to their abuser. But if they get the opportunity to get far enough away, they may whisper, 'Say, yes. He's hitting me,' or something to that effect that will give them the ability to start having a dialogue that will keep them safe."
Colter commends the bystander for reporting the incident, something that she describes as crucial.
"If you are an eyewitness to a physical assault, you probably can be saving someone's life by following through," Colter said. "If that caller followed them to the scene where the police intervened and gave their account in person, would have been even better."
Colter says communities are critical in intervening, because most of the time, victim's are protective over the abuser because of the fear they are experiencing.
"If a community can help them through that fear and shame and reveal the domestic abuse, through their own assessment, it's better for them," Colter said.
In the hopes of shining light on domestic abuse, Colter encourages parents and friends to be aware of warning signs.
"If you have a family member or a child in a relationship, where there is obvious jealousy and they're always having to check in with their partner, if they become isolated, if their normal social patterns are to hang out with friends and family, and if they all of a sudden stop doing that and only attend to the needs to the person they are dating, that's a cause for a pause at a minimum," Colter advised.
Controlling type of behavior is something else to look out for, such as what to wear and who be with, according to Colter.
"If you start to see those types of behavior from a person your child is dating, you should be alarmed and concerned, especially if before that person they were dating, they were a different personality type, or they were much more in control of their own circumstances and own social environment, then that needs to be assessed."
If you do have someone in a dating situation that you suspect domestic violence is involved, there are many different resources, including AVDA, a Houston-based organization that provides free legal representation and counseling for survivors of domestic abuse. .
"We can do safety planning, help you account for the situation you are observing, and make some recommendations and referrals about resources for that individual," Colter said.
To get you or someone help, you can call 713-224-9911.
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