I’m looking at you, family of B.L. Today the FBI confirmed that the remains found in Wyoming are that of Gabby Petito. The coroner has also ruled her death a homicide, though the precise manner of death has not been ruled yet. I’m not surprised, but it’s devastating.
While in conversation with survivors I know both personally and professionally over the past week, when Gabby Petito is mentioned, immediately I hear the phrase “so triggered.” And I know exactly what they mean. When you understand the dynamics of coercive control so intimately, you see it immediately. We all see our abusers in B.L.
When I watched that bodycam footage of Gabby and B.L. being interviewed by police after a 911 caller both witnessed and reported the assault against Gabby–he was clear that “the man was slapping the girl” and that he tried to drive off in HER van without her–I felt sick. While Gabby was flooding and dysregulated, which is how you get when you’re being actively abused, B.L. is calm and collected. Both minimize the abuse, and both blame Gabby as the aggressor, as there was scratches visible on his arm. If they had compared the 911 call, they would have seen the discrepancy. Reactive abuse is not the same as primary abuse. Being abused makes you angry. Sometimes you fight back.
Gabby goes on to blame mental health issues such as OCD–which her father denies she was ever diagnosed with–and her cleaning of their van and stress as the culprits. B.L. refers to her having some kind of episode. Can we say gaslighting?? If I had to hazard a guess, they had a quick conversation that she would take the blame to protect him. So what we have here are clear signs of coercive control:
*Gaslighting as indicated by Gabby presenting herself and being presented as the unstable one with mental health issues
*B.L.’s calm demeanor and Gabby’s dysregulation, which is common for abusers–there is a subtype of abuser who gets more calm and even has a slower heart rate when they are abusing their victim
*B.L. clearly feeling entitled to Gabby’s resources. She said to officers she was afraid he was going to drive off and leave her, again, in HER vehicle. Which he later drove home without her
*Blameshifting from the abuser to the abused
*Clear lack of remorse from the abuser, B.L.
It’s worth pointing out that fights like these are NOT NORMAL. Especially if the abuse could not be contained in public. I shudder to think of what things were like in private. It is not normal to have police called to arguments, and to have such terrible fights and then keep getting back together and be publicly loved up. That’s called the Cycle of Abuse. It is not normal for families to enable and hide necessary information from law enforcement, when their son clearly had been the last person to see Gabby, and had stolen her van to boot. None of this is normal.
While not all coercive control abusers use physical abuse, I think it’s important to assume that they are capable of it. If someone is capable of psychologically, financially, mentally, verbally, and sexually abusing their partner, they are dangerous.
My heart is tired of cautionary tales. We have to find better ways of preventing things from getting this far, by educating the public and law enforcement on the signs of coercive control, as well as criminalizing it. Because if the red flags are not recognized earlier, it may be too late.