Domestic Violence Doesn’t Always Look the Way You Might Think


Last month, the nation was riveted by the search for Gabby Petito, a young woman who disappeared while on a cross-country road trip with her fiancée. Authorities later found her body in Wyoming. During the search for Gabby, her fiancée — who many believe is responsible for Gabby’s death — disappeared after being sought for questioning by law enforcement. Although the two previously had an interaction with police after witnesses reported seeing the fiancée slap Gabby and lock her out of her own vehicle, he was not arrested — and the couple continued on their trip.


This tragedy has raised important questions, such as why so much attention was paid to this case when so little focus is put on cases involving missing women of color. It also shined a spotlight on domestic violence, and how well-meaning people often miss red flags of abuse.


Many people understand domestic violence in only a certain way: for example, that it occurs between a heterosexual couple, that it always involves physical violence, and that it is easy to spot a victim of domestic violence. In reality, domestic violence can affect anyone — and can take many different forms, including:


  • Physical abuse

  • Verbal or emotional abuse, such as threats and name-calling

  • Psychological abuse, such as gaslighting

  • Sexual violence

  • Destruction of property or pets, or threats to do so; and

  • Reproductive coercion


It can often be difficult to tell if a person is a victim of domestic violence based on a brief interaction. For example, in the Gabby Petito case, the law enforcement officers were seemingly reassured by the fact that Gabby told them that she was at fault — without considering that many victims of domestic violence have been manipulated to believe that they are at fault for any abuse that they suffer.


There are a number of potential warning signs of abuse. When interacting with a loved one, coworker, or even an acquaintance, you may consider any of the following to be red flags for abuse:


  1. Their partner often insults them in front of other people.

  2. Their partner is extremely jealous or possessive.

  3. They make excuses for their partner’s behavior.

  4. They always seem worried about angering their partner or seem overly worried about pleasing their partner.

  5. They have unexplained marks or injuries, or wear clothing that does not fit the season.

  6. They have stopped spending time with friends and family, or cut phone conversations short when their partner enters the room.

  7. They have a personality change, or seem to be depressed or anxious.

  8. They constantly check in with their partner.

  9. They skip work, school, or social outings for no clear reason.

  10. They never have money on hand.

  11. Their partner makes all of the decisions or orders them around.

  12. They blame themselves for things that their partner did.

While you cannot save a domestic violence victim from abuse, you can provide support to them. Our guide on “How to Help a Friend” can be an invaluable resource as you navigate the situation. You can also reach out to us via our hotline at any time: 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available).


Remember that if a person is in an abusive relationship, it is never their fault. It also may be difficult for them to leave for a number of reasons — such as being afraid of what their partner may do if they try to leave, or because they lack the financial resources to leave. The best thing that you can do is to help your friend or family member get connected with an organization that can help them — like Blackburn Center.


Our organization is committed to ensuring that ALL people live free from all forms of violence. We offer a range of services for victims and survivors of violence, as well as services for the community. If you need help, we are here for you 24 hours a day at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available). All calls to our hotline are free of charge and can be anonymous.


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