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Here's Why The Gabby Petito Case Is A Classic Example Of Intimate Partner Violence

By Gwen Farrell··  7 min read
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Ever since Gabby Petito failed to return home with her fiancé Brian Laundrie in mid-August, the internet has followed her disappearance with fervor and intensity. The vlogger, a 22 year old from Long Island, New York, was traveling cross-country in a renovated Ford van with her fiancé, documenting their stays out West and their visits to national parks.

Speculation has taken over, and though reported remains matching Gabby’s description were recently found in Wyoming, we still don’t know what happened. But there’s an important component about the whole situation that cannot be ignored and definitely played a part in her sudden disappearance. Many believe that Gabby’s boyfriend Brian, who also recently “disappeared” according to his family, was likely responsible for her disappearance and possible demise. 

Looking further into the couple’s journey, we learn that Brian was abusive towards Gabby, both physically and mentally, and it took a toll on her. Piecing together what we know now, here’s why Gabby’s case is a classic example of intimate partner violence.

What Is Intimate Partner Violence?

All types of violence affect individuals and families, but intimate partner violence (IPV) is especially pernicious. IPV falls under the umbrella of what many would label domestic violence, but intimate partner specifically refers to an abuser and victim who are in a romantic relationship, whether they live together, are just dating, or are married, as Gabby and Brian were reportedly planning to be. The violence can be psychological, sexual, mental, emotional, or physical. An estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are affected by intimate partner violence in the U.S.

We already know that the two had an intense relationship. A month before her disappearance, police in Moab, Utah responded to a domestic violence call. The bodycam footage of the responding officers has since been released, and it paints an entire picture of Gabby’s relationship with Brian. While the initial report has since been corrected by law enforcement, we know now that the witness saw the two fighting over a phone (presumably Gabby’s – we’ll get to that in a bit). Their verbal argument soon turned physical, as Gabby began to slap Brian. He responded by grabbing her face and forcing her backward, eventually succeeding in locking her out of the van.

IPV is domestic violence between an abuser and victim who are in a romantic relationship.

No one was arrested when police eventually pulled the van over for speeding – only because, allegedly, Gabby grabbed the steering wheel and forced him to stop for the police. Gabby was named as the aggressor in the report for admitting to hitting him, and bodycam footage shows Gabby crying and responding emotionally to the officers’ questions. The incident was not classified as domestic violence, but as a mental or emotional break.

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that given what we’ve already seen captured on camera, the intensity in aggression and emotion between the two had to be even worse when they were by themselves.

Power and Control, the Pillars of Abuse

When we talk about abusers and perpetrators, it’s helpful to know the key indicators to look for. We can categorize the most common qualities of abusers and their tactics in a diagram known as the wheel of power and control.

Abusers are enabled to enact their manipulation, be it mental, physical, or otherwise, through isolating their victims, intimidating them, and controlling their movements or actions. This kind of behavior is allowed to flourish through their own privileges, whether they’re financial or familial. Hear me out…

A trip out West sounds like the perfect adventure for a young couple in love. But by the time Gabby’s disappearance was even noticed, she was hundreds of miles away from her family and friends. She had no real connections on the journey, except Brian, and perhaps that was entirely intentional on his part. The two didn’t meet up with friends or relatives out West – they traveled by themselves and Gabby’s only real tie to her loved ones and the outside world was her phone.

Abusers are able to manipulate by isolating their victims, then intimidating and controlling them. 

A friend of Gabby’s, Rose Davis, has since come forward to reveal that Brian was the worst type of partner. Davis alleges that he was jealous to the point of absolute control, even taking Gabby’s ID one night so she was unable to go out with friends. Gabby disclosed to her friend that Brian suffered from “episodes” where he supposedly couldn’t sleep and heard voices, motivating Gabby to stay with the friend he was jealous of. Gabby and her friend even shared their phone locations with each other, just in case they ever got separated or lost. When Brian found out, he made her stop.

Davis says that she was really the only friend Gabby had in Florida, where they lived, because he didn’t want her to have friends and made it hard for her to have them. She disclosed that Gabby suffered from anxiety, and based on the bodycam footage, something really severe would have had to have happened to trigger the emotional response we see in the video.

A Casualty of Abuse?

There should be no doubt in our minds that Brian isolated Gabby from her friends and her family, and displayed other classic qualities we attribute to perpetrators.

It’s also clear that Brian has obvious elements of narcissism about him. In the footage released by police, he’s the calm, cool, and collected one – meanwhile, his fiancée is an emotional wreck who can barely hold it together. Because of this behavior, Gabby is obviously the crazy emotional girl who can’t control her actions and her fiancé is actually the victim. But we have to ask ourselves: What words or actions could have been exchanged between them which led Gabby to a downward spiral in front of the police?

Brian has obvious elements of narcissism about him, one of the classic attributes of perpetrators.

When Brian returned to his home in Florida on September 1 – without Gabby – he refused to speak to police or cooperate, lawyering up immediately. When he “disappeared,” his family waited three days before informing authorities, effectively making themselves complicit in the escape of the main person of interest in a high-profile criminal case. In all likelihood, Brian’s family knows the extent of his actions and his role in Gabby’s disappearance, and has been enabling him for years. It’s this environment he was conditioned in that led him to believe his behavior and attitude were acceptable in the first place. 

We always read about abuse and toxic people and their relationships, but it’s seldom we see those very real consequences unfolding in front of us. Gabby is not just a statistic or a number or another in a long line of battered women. She is the face of an epidemic, and her disappearance is forcing the confrontation we’re having with ourselves about abuse and men.

Closing Thoughts

While we don’t know all the details yet, we know enough about Brian and Gabby to assert that Gabby was a bright woman with her entire future ahead of her and her death is nothing less than a tragedy. We also suspect that Brian had something to do with her demise, and currently, he’s avoiding the consequences of his actions at all costs. 

Abuse is a behavior that thrives in silence. No doubt it thrived on the couple’s trip in their van behind closed doors and elsewhere throughout their relationship. The only way to deter its power is to vocalize its destructive influences and combat the way it pervades individuals, turning them from promising members of society into monsters.

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