RIP Gabby Petito

To Gabby’s family and friends, especially her parents: My heart breaks for you, and I’m sending you love and strength. The most important thing now is justice for Gabby, answers for her family, and accountability from her fiance and his family, who have continually thwarted the investigation into her disappearance.

I am not a criminologist, and I acknowledge that this is speculation, but I believe her fiance B.L. (I can’t bring myself to write out his name) killed her and abandoned her to the wilderness. He then stole her van and drove ACROSS THE COUNTRY with it, without a word to her frantic parents. He had hours, he had days, to reflect on his actions. What kind of person does this? An abuser, a coward, and a criminal.

From the first snippet I read about Gabby’s case, I knew in my bones that this was intimate partner violence, and coercive control. The bodycam footage in Moab, Utah interviewing Gabby and B.L. …the fact that he then flew home to Florida and was messing around in their storage for what purpose? … then he flew back to join her (again, time he could’ve reflected and reversed the course of what he was about to do) … then snuffed out the life of this beautiful, vibrant, very loved young woman. A person with her whole life ahead of her. He then refused to cooperate with the efforts to find her. Refused to give her family even a modicum of hope or a place to start.

Abuse is not love. Attention and obsession is not love. Possession is not love. Displays of affection on social media are not love.

This reminds me so much of the disappearance of Susan Powell in Utah, whose body has never been found. Her monster of a husband J.P. refused to cooperate or help with the investigation as well. That kind of cruelty is just beyond comprehension.

I’m sick to death of watching as women and girls, and children die at the hands of their intimate partners or parents. Something has to change. It seems as if there are few consequences for killing one’s partner if that partner is female, in fact, often a less harsh sentence than if that person had been a total stranger. And I’m sure I’m not the only woman and survivor who mourns for every life lost, every confirmation that there aren’t harsher consequences for abusing and killing us. As if our lives have no value.

Please stop killing us.

Gabby Petito was just trying to live her life, to be in love, and explore this beautiful country. I’m sure she never intended to become a poster girl for intimate partner violence. But I’m afraid that is what is happening. This never should have happened. But my hope is that the attention her life and death has garnered will help shift both laws and public opinion about domestic violence. It is more common than people think, and there are red flags along the way that can be learned from. For instance–her best friend Rose reports that B.L. tried to isolate her from friends and family, even going so far as to steal her ID so that she couldn’t go out with her friend. Rose also reports that Gabby and B.L. would get in such terrible fights that Gabby would have to come stay with her. These are enormous red flags, and are not normal behavior. I am not putting any blame at all on Gabby’s family and friends. It is likely she concealed B.L.’s behavior to protect him, because she loved him. The blame falls squarely on B.L.

If someone you know is reporting possessive and controlling behavior by their intimate partner, support them non-judgmentally, but ASK QUESTIONS. Give them domestic violence resources, even if they are not yet ready to confront the abuse (planting a seed is so important–trust me, this will stick in their head). Refer them to the website http://www.loveisrespect.org. Do not ignore it. When I review most narratives of abuse with survivors, there were breadcrumbs left to family and friends that were not picked up on. There were moments where intervention could have occurred. If someone said something, the survivor remembered it very clearly and they pondered it. Yes, it is your business. If someone is being abused, you may be witnessing a crime, or as Laura Richards puts it, “murder in slow motion.”

Maybe, just maybe, the concern and compassion being shown nation- and worldwide for Gabby Petito could result in some action to protect women and girls. I know her family will never be able to fully heal from this, and I wish them continued support and care in this incredibly difficult time.

My wish and my hope is that the concern, outrage, and demands for justice that Gabby Petito’s case has garnered is the reaction to every missing girl, woman, or transperson regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, or life circumstances. Because they are all precious, and they all deserve it, and all of their lives are important. There should never be “less dead” status assigned to anyone.

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