The Gabby Petito murder has everyone captivated. Nearly any person on any form of social media knows of how the young woman was traveling with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, before he returned home without her and disappeared soon after. People are eagerly consuming any media on or about the case, commenting as if they’re observing a murder mystery fantasy or a true crime podcast in real time.
While national attention is on this case, we need to discuss Gabby Petito’s death by strangulation – the perpetrator is not yet known – as representative of a much larger global issue: sexual, physical, and emotional violence towards women, often culminating in femicide.
Women are threatened with death and violence for simply existing, dating, refusing, and/or being in proximity to men. While many may view femicide as a “third world problem” due to the focus on it in Latin America in particular, women aren’t free of this epidemic in any nation. Just ask those who knew Sarah Everard, Miya Marcano, and Sabina Nessa.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four women experience physical, sexual, or emotional intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and that’s only what gets reported. 35 per cent of those women are left with injuries, and half of all female homicide victims are killed by current or former partners. In tandem with the one in six women who report rape or sexual assault, it’s not all men – but it’s more common than you’d think.
More likely than not, at least one woman you know, whether that be your mother, sister, cousin or a friend, has faced violence at the hands of a man. If you stood in a room with four or more female family members, the likelihood of one of them being an abuse, rape, or assault survivor is nearly 100 per cent. Someone you know, someone you love, has faced this.
I am one of those women. I experienced sexual, physical, and emotional violence in one of my college relationships… and yet, I struggled to leave. I watched as “friends” supported my rapist and continue to do so, asking me why I stayed if it was true.
We live in a society that accuses women of being complicit in their own abuse. We are asked why we didn’t leave sooner, why we hid bruises, and why we didn’t speak up rather than the focus and accountability being on the men who performed these actions. People who haven’t endured intimate partner violence fail to realize it is a pattern of behavior, a cycle of abuse.
It always starts the same: building tensions escalate to violence, the abuser apologizes and works to rectify and reconcile, and then you return to the honeymoon phase where everything is fine. They work to gaslight and convince you that the violent behavior is isolated, that you somehow caused it, and that it won’t happen again. And you believe them, because you feel that you’re the reason for the violence. The fact of the matter is that these relationships do lasting damage to your self-perception and your perception of truth. Intimate partner violence ends in two ways for women: in death, or in escape – and those who are lucky enough to escape find themselves in a whole other world of trauma.
At this point, we don’t yet know if Gabby Petito was a victim of abuse, and I don’t seek to assign that label to her in death. What we do know is that if you find yourself concerned about the Petito case and the rates of violence against women, the best thing you can do is to hold yourself and your peers accountable. That is, you can work to ensure a safer society for the women you love.