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Gabby Petito and the Truth about Domestic Violence

On September 11, Gabby Petito’s family reported her missing. They had become increasingly concerned after not hearing from the 22-year-old Long Island native in weeks. The bubbly, adventurous pharmacy technician was popular on social media and kept in touch with her loved ones frequently, but suddenly, her phone was off and her accounts inactive.

Petito had been spending the summer visiting national parks across the United States with her new fiancé Brian Laundrie. Despite how happy Petito seemed when Laundrie popped the question in May, family and friends knew that the relationship between the couple had become increasingly strained.

Her family were not alone in their concerns about the relationship. A witness in Utah called 9-1-1 when they saw Laundrie slapping Petito across the face. Body cam footage of the incident shows that Petito was very distraught, and that Laundrie did admit to striking her. Sadly, instead of arresting Laundrie, the police officers just asked the couple to separate and disperse from the scene.

Just 15 days after that incident, Petito’s cellphone was shut off for good. On September 1, Laundrie returned to Florida without his fiancé. He disappeared shortly thereafter when the police zeroed in on him as a person of interest and began searching his home and van. A federal warrant has been issued for his arrest, and he is currently one of the most famous wanted people in America.  

This story has gripped the nation, with millions of people demanding justice for Gabby Petito. Part of the reason the story is so powerful is because it is so familiar and so infuriating. Most of us know a woman (or women) who have been physically abused by a male partner. Some of us might even know a woman who was killed by a husband or partner. Indeed, 92 percent of women are killed by men that they know. In most cases, these homicides do not occur as a singular act, but rather as a continued pattern of violence.

As the police continue to search for Brian Laundrie, women are coming together to ask: Why does this keep happening? How can we protect ourselves? What can we do differently to stop these horrific acts of violence?

While I am glad to hear these conversations, I think it’s important for us to include men in these discussions. There is a lot we can do as women to protect ourselves (such as taking self-defense courses, learning the warning signs of abusive behavior, and supporting domestic violence centers), but in the end, we have to include men in these conversations. We need to ask ourselves why men are so prone to these patterns of violence and abuse.

I think there is a lot of healing and growth that needs to happen for the male sex. Centuries of being unable to express their emotions or have healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and trauma has left us with men who can’t cry, but sure know how to hit. With men that can’t be vulnerable, but know how to deflect or degrade. With men that can’t talk about their feelings, despite the fact that they are easily overwhelmed by them and have no outlet to express these emotions in a non-physical way.

But please understand: I am not saying that men are the victims here: Clearly, Gabby Petito and the millions of women like her who have suffered at the hands of men are the victims we most need to center and elevate. But we can’t end this pattern of male violence if we don’t realize that men aren’t inherently evil or monstrous, but rather broken, hurting people who desperately need tools and resources if they are ever going to break these generational chains of violence.

Having an ‘us against them’ approach to this violence only further entrenches us to view each other as oppositional forces, rather than as connected beings who share a mutual responsibility to care for each other and this earth. For me, I feel more empowered as a woman and as a co-creator in my reality when I choose to view men not as villains but as human beings who have the ability to change and grow. Casting men as inherently violent limits our ability to create change as well as assumes that violence is part of the male being, rather than an unhealthy (and very dangerous) coping strategy that results from a patriarchal society that doesn’t permit men the ability to be weak, vulnerable, and scared . 

We also need to address the fact that police officers released Brian Laundrie even after bystanders, and he himself, admitted to striking Petito. Better training is a must to help law enforcement recognize and realize the signs of domestic violence, because the type of societal shift that I am advocating for above will take many years to become fully realized. As long as we continue to live in a world shadowed by male violence, we have to ensure that there are police officers and trained domestic violence interventionists who come to the rescue before things escalate past the point of no return. We know that most intimate partner homicides are not a one-off, but rather a long-standing system of abuse that we all must learn to better recognize and report. 

What do you think? How do you think we can better respond to domestic violence and better protect women from these situations? 

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