SALT LAKE CITY (KTVX) — The parents of Gabby Petito appeared before the Utah Senate Monday morning to voice their support for a bill that would require a “lethality assessment” in reported cases of domestic violence between intimate partners.
The bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate, has been presented to the House. If passed by the House, it will then go to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk for his signature.
The bill requires Utah law enforcement officers to conduct a survey of 12 questions to assess if the victim of domestic violence may be in further danger if they return to their partner. The bill also includes funding for a private database police can use to recognize aggressors and victims in repeated domestic violence cases. While the results of the survey will be kept private, judges can have access to a survey’s “score” for use in any prosecution.
Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, noted that while the bill comes too late to save their daughter, it may save other lives in the future.
“It is a proud moment to be here,” said Joseph Petito. “I thank everyone for the hard work that they did and the way they voted today. I encourage the (Utah) House to do the same.”
If signed into law, officers would be required to ask victims in domestic abuse cases these 12 questions:
- Has the aggressor ever used a weapon against the victim or threatened the victim with a weapon?
- Has the aggressor ever threatened to kill the victim or the victim’s children?
- Does the victim believe the aggressor will try to kill them?
- Does the aggressor have a gun or could easily get a gun?
- Has the aggressor ever tried to choke the victim?
- Does the aggressor get violently or constantly jealous or control most of the daily activities of the victim?
- Has the victim left or separated from the aggressor after they were living together or married?
- Is the aggressor unemployed?
- Has the aggressor ever attempted suicide to the best of the victim’s knowledge?
- Does the victim have a child that the aggressor believes is not the aggressor’s biological child?
- Does the aggressor follow or spy on the victim or leave threatening messages for the victim?
- Is there anything else that worries the victim?
If the victim answers “yes” to any of the questions, officers must refer them to a victim advocacy group for help and resources.
Petito said that while the questions are a great start, there is still work to be done. According to Petito, Utah has twice as many animal shelters as it does domestic violence shelters, something Rep. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, the bill’s sponsor, said was “embarrassing.”
“The questions are only the first step to helping these individuals that find themselves in this situation,” said Petito. “It’s what comes after these questions that are just as important. The resources you need to have, the advocates that you need to have, the shelters you need to have are just as important as these questions.”
The family has been vocal about how the Moab Police Department handled their investigation of a physical altercation between Gabby Petito and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie. In November, the Petito family filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab Police Department.
The suit claims that because police did not apprehend Laundrie, it led “to further and escalating domestic violence,” eventually resulting in Petito’s tragic death. During Monday’s press conference, Nichole Schmidt said she believes her daughter would still be alive today.
“We should not fear the ones (we) love,” Petito concluded Monday.
Support for victims and survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence is available 24/7 via the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, or in an emergency, please call 911 immediately.