KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The national spotlight on the disappearance and death of Gabby Petito, and the relationship with her fiancé, has renewed attention to the issue of domestic violence.
One of the aspects of the case that is highlighting the issue was police body camera footage shared by the Moab Police Department shows that an officer pulled over the couple’s van on Aug. 12 after it was seen speeding and hit a curb near the entrance to Arches National Park. The body camera video shows Petito visibly upset when an officer approached them. She told the officer the couple had been arguing. Police then had separated the couple for the night.
Officials from SafeSpace and the Knoxville Special Crimes Unit said scenes like this are not that uncommon. In 2020, Knoxville Police received more than 17,000 domestic violence calls. The Knox County Sheriff’s Office received nearly 13,000 domestic violence calls.
David Kitts, program manager with KPD’s Special Crimes Unit, met up with WATE 6 On Your Side on Wednesday at Knoxville’s Family Justice Center to break down some of the red flags that abuse may be going on in a relationship.
“A person is in an abusive relationship if there is extreme jealousy, if there is controlling behavior, if there’s isolation from family and friends,” Kitts said.
Van Wolfe, executive director of SafeSpace of East Tennessee, said controlling behavior is something that can start small and escalate.
“As opposed to telling me what you’re going to do today and being very interested in a very casual way, versus where have you been today and who was on the phone with you and those kinds of questions,” Wolfe said.
SafeSpace is a safe, secure, and confidentially located shelter. The shelter services provided are comprehensive and specifically designed to anticipate the needs of victims. Both Kitts and Wolfe explained no one can force victims to get help or leave a relationship, but family and friends can let them know there are agencies and professionals that can help.
“We advise family members to talk to this individual, be very logical, tell them that they don’t deserve to be abused, and tell them there are ways for help out there in our community,” Kitts said.
They also said while these conversations can be tough they can also save a life.
“Early intervention, that’s the key, because victims are either going to leave the relationship or often they’re going to be dead,” Wolfe said.
If you or someone you know needs help, make sure you contact the Knoxville Family Justice Center at 865-521-6336. They are located at 400 Harriet Tubman St. in Knoxville. SafeSpace of East Tennessee offices are located in Sevierville, Dandridge, and Newport. Their numbers can be found below.
- Sevierville Office: 865-453-9254
- Dandridge Office: 865-397-8546
- Newport Office: 423-237-6626