Conversations about domestic abuse have increased since coverage about Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito swept across the world over the last month.
More people are talking about toxic relationships, navigating abuse and our society’s misconceptions of how abuse takes form.
Those conversations, said Adrian Croke, director of education and prevention at the Community Safety Network, can range from productive to misinformed to downright toxic.
To address these topics, staff at the Community Safety Network — which provides free, personal support to people experiencing trauma after sexual assaults, stalking incidents, domestic violence and other often underreported crimes — organized “How to Talk About Domestic Violence 101,” held Oct. 7.
“This is going to be about having an informed, safe and supportive conversation around domestic violence, because our community, the world and the nation is having conversations about domestic violence, unhealthy relationships, abuse [and] Gabby Petito, and not all those conversations are informed,” Croke said before the event.
Such conversations become more common when events in the community prompt them, said Croke, who added the Petito case hasn’t necessarily led to a rise in hotline call numbers.
“Similar to what we saw after and during the [Christopher] Tarpey sexual assault trial,” Croke said, “we are seeing a similar thing now of increased community conversations around domestic violence.”
The Community Safety Network’s role, Croke said, is to redirect the community to better conduct those conversations. That way, CSN — and the community at large — can better help victims of abuse and prevent future abuse and sexual assault.
“We want to support survivors in our community and our world at large, and there’s a direct correlation between that and prevention of abuse,” she said. “I’m hoping to add some understanding, empathy and knowledge to the community to be able to have better conversations about domestic violence and particularly about when they’re related to experiences that people have had.”
Among the common ways people err when they talk about domestic violence, Croke said, is by victim blaming.
That took form in the Petito case by people talking about her being unhinged during the situation in Moab, Utah, captured by bodycam, that shows Petito crying while Brian Laundrie appears more composed after law enforcement officers responded to a domestic violence call about the couple.
“That is also very much not understanding the dynamic of abusive relationships, and that an abuser is a master manipulator,” Croke said. “There is a reason that [people] watch that video and feel that way, and that is an engineered dynamic that an abuser has put months and maybe years into.”
Croke said victim blaming is, in part, a product of people simplifying the narrative to avoid having to challenge their views.
“We as humans like to simplify and categorize,” Croke said. “It makes things easier for us to understand. Also, no one wants to live in a world where bad things happen to good people. And so we look for reasons why something happened.
“We don’t want this world to be a place where a wonderful, promising, intelligent, funny, kind young woman can be in this scenario of being brutally murdered by someone she loved,” Croke said. “It’s much easier for us to say, ‘Well, she must have somehow brought this on.’”
Croke said that the vast majority of people are not victim blaming Petito in this instance. But sometimes people don’t notice when they are victim blaming, nor do they notice the insidious nature of it, she added.
Of course, women are not the only ones in the victim role. It can happen to men.
Victim blaming was one of about 12 points Community Safety Network staff mentioned in addressing how society talks about domestic violence.
Croke noted that events like Petito’s death bring about both good and bad dialogue from community members.
“It’s kind of a Catch-22. I believe in awareness building, and I strongly believe that violence thrives in silence. We need to talk about these things in order to make a change. But with that conversation is probably going to come some damaging, unhealthy conversations. So then I think that’s our role as CSN, to step in and try and shed some light on that conversation.”
She added that while people sometimes use the wrong language and take wrong actions when faced with domestic violence, the first step is for people to have those conversations with good intentions.
“It can’t be perfect. I do think it’s inevitable that there’s gonna be some mistakes, and lack of empathy along the way, but hopefully we’re all just doing our best.”
“I believe in awareness building, and I strongly believe that violence thrives in silence.” — Adrian Croke Community safety network