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'Don’t take it lightly': Advocates warn death by strangulation risks are high in intimate partner violence

In Sarasota County, 8 of 10 victims of intimate partner domestic abuse have been strangled and or choked at some point by their abuser, according to SPARCC.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — The Teton County Coroner announced Tuesday that Gabby Petito was strangled to death before her body was left in the Wyoming wilderness for around three to four weeks.

However we still don't know who killed her, as the search continues for her ex-fiancé Brian Laundrie.

When sharing the autopsy results, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue may have given insight into what detectives could be considering as they try to answer the question of who the murderer might be. One of those factors under consideration in the investigation is intimate partner domestic violence. 

"This is only one of many deaths around the country of people who are involved in domestic violence, and it's unfortunate that these other deaths do not get as much coverage as this one," Blue said.

Petito's story has brought a new spotlight to the issue of domestic violence and how much it has continued to plague the country.

An advocate in Sarasota said strangulation is very common in intimate partner violence. She said many victims often ignore it or make excuses for their abusers.

"Usually strangulation is the first thing on the list that people recognize, either that or there's a gun being held to them or a gun using the incident," Sigrid, of The Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center, said.

Sigrid would only use her first name due to the nature of her work. 

Advocates like her help law enforcement identify victims of domestic violence who are at risk of being killed by their partners.

She said she gets around 200 police reports monthly and 8 out of 10 of the victims in those reports have been strangled and or choked by their abuser.

Carolyn Becker of Sarasota survived this kind of attack said it should never be taken lightly.

"About two years ago I was in an abusive relationship and it didn't start that way it started emotionally and then the last couple of months of it it turned abusive," Becker said.

Becker said her partner strangled her more than a dozen times and left marks and bruises on her. She said she always blamed herself until it was almost too late.

"The last night, he ended up strangling me but I'm thankful someone else was in the house so he had to let go, but the next day I went to the police because I just had enough and I knew my life was threatened," Becker said.

The State of Florida has one of the stricter definitions of strangulation under its law which includes choking and using a ligature around the neck. It covers any prevention of oxygen flow to the brain. 

"So that's a pillow over the face, hands and mouth over the face, it can be prosecuted as strangulation and is very serious and it carries a felony charge," Sigrid said.

She recommends to act fast by calling your local law enforcement office, a women's shelter or an advocacy group, if one is lucky enough to survive such an attack or has found them self in danger from a violent domestic partner. 

That's exactly what Becker said she did and was encouraged by her family and friends to end the abuse she had faced.

"There are people there to support you and to get you out. Walk out of it, you just have to walk out of it ,and there's more in life than that," she said.

To reach advocates with SPARCC you can call the 24-hour crisis helpline at 941-365-1976.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, this year's theme is Take A Stand. It is  a call to action to bring attention to the issue of domestic violence throughout the year.