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Why, as a domestic violence survivor, I'm fixated on Gabby Petito

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Anyone who has survived domestic violence could have told you Gabby Petito, 22, appeared to be in trouble. A few days ago, one of my best friends, a fellow survivor, sent me the link to the bodycam footage.

We hadn’t spoken of the case yet, but we had both been following it hour by hour. Neither of us cared about #vanlife, and we were both aware of how fixated the news media get on pretty white girl victims in a country where 710 Indigenous people have already been missing for a decade in Wyoming and many more Black girls have yet to be found.

But we latched onto Gabby’s story less because we saw ourselves in her, and more because we saw our abusers in her partner.

We had both dated men whom others didn’t see as threatening. They were white men with slim physiques, a passion for social justice, progressive politics. They were immensely Instagram-friendly. They knew how to pick just the right wrinkled T-shirt, faded jeans and smile for the perfect persona, moment and look they wanted to project.

“Ugh I don’t trust this f---ing guy,” my friend texted me.

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We had both learned that what initially seemed like extreme jealousy, mental health “episodes” or just really, really bad fights were in fact part of a pattern of emotionally abusive behavior known as coercive control.

We had built invisible cages around ourselves to placate our abusers and, years later, were still clawing our way out into a world where they still lurked. We suspected that Brian Laundrie, 23, had manipulated Gabby into believing that her anxiety and their issues were her fault, a result of defects in her character, not his. And later, a report from her friend about his controlling nature seemed to line up with our intuition.

In the video, Gabby told the cops she was afraid of Brian leaving her without a ride. They were in Moab, Utah, at the time, on the edge of the desert, where temperatures often hovered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

There’s still much that we don’t know about this case, and we can never know how things could have gone differently. But I believe that Gabby Petito’s life could have been saved if the police officers who responded to the domestic incident had the training to see what victims........


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