COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW)– The disappearance and death of YouTuber Gabby Petito has again put domestic violence in the spotlight across the country.
Petito, 22, and her fiancé Brian Laundrie, 23, were on a road trip this summer, which they documented on social media. He returned home to Florida without her on Sept. 1 and her family reported her missing on Sept. 11.
Petito’s remains were found more than a week later in Bridger-Teton National Forest on the eastern edge of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said the cause of death was “manual strangulation/throttling. Laundrie, a person of interest in Petito’s homicide, has not been located.
“Throttling generally means that it was done with human hands as opposed to an instrument,” Blue told NewsNationNow.com. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be, but manual strangulation basically means it was not done with equipment.”
Strangulation is one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence, according to the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention. It can result in unconsciousness within seconds and death within minutes. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported strangulation is also a significant predictor of future lethal violence.
“There are evidence-based indicators that a case is more likely to escalate to a homicide or to a nearly fatal attack. Some of those indicators are if the abuser owns a gun, if there’s ever been strangulation in the relationship, at all, if there’s been a recent job loss, if an abuser has ever threatened suicide,” said Melissa Graves, CEO of Journey Center For Safety and Healing in Cleveland.
Strangulation is a felony in 49 states. Ohio is not one of them. In South Carolina, strangulation is part of other felony offenses, including aggravated domestic violence and attempted murder, however, it is not a stand-alone felony.
There have been attempts to make strangulation a felony in Ohio. In 2016, then-State Rep. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) introduced legislation that would make a first offense a third-degree felony. Earlier this year, Kunze, now a State Senator, and State Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Cleveland) proposed another bill to increase penalties.
Strangulation is also included in the proposed Aisha’s Law, named for beloved Shaker Heights teacher Aisha Fraser. Her ex-husband, former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Lance Mason, pleaded guilty to her stabbing death. The bill did not make it through the Ohio General Assembly in 2020 and was reintroduced earlier this year.
“The Gabby Petito case exemplifies the need for the long overdue passage of Aisha’s Law, which would provide funding for greater police training around identifying the signs of high-risk and lethal domestic violence. Many survivors of domestic violence will resonate with at least some of the insights we have come to see and learn over the past weeks,” said Ohio Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights).
“While Aisha Fraser’s life was not snuffed out by the act strangulation, a victim of non-fatal strangulation has a 700 percent higher risk of being killed by their abuser. It is shameful that Ohio remains the only state left without felony strangulation law,” Boyd said in a statement on Thurdsay.
In the last year, Ohio saw 131 domestic violence fatalities, according to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. It’s a 20 percent increase from the previous year and a 62 percent increase from two years prior. That’s consistent with national trends reporting a spike in intimate-partner violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Journey Center For Safety and Healing serviced 10,000 people from 2020 to 2021. That’s actually a small decrease from previous years, since in-person programs were limited. Many of those people needed safe shelter, support groups or a safety plan.