Dear Janice – What do you think about the whole Gabby Petito thing? What does it have to do with us?


Dear SuzyKnew! Reader:

My answer isn’t going to be another piece railing at the “Missing White Woman Syndrome” following the tragic and preventable death of Gabby Petito, the 22 year old white woman whose disappearance dominated recent news cycles. By the way, that phrase “Missing White Woman Syndrome”, was brilliantly coined by the late, great Gwen Ifill (RIP). There have already been dozens of well-written articles and thought pieces about the stark contrast between the nonstop coverage of the pretty, blonde, white woman who went suspiciously missing and the dearth of coverage of the THOUSANDS of missing Black, brown, and indigenous women (and men).

What more can I say that you don’t already know? Everyone reading this knows that Black, brown, and indigenous women go suspiciously missing EVERY SINGLE DAY in this country, without so much as a backward glance from the media. More disturbing is how little attention these cases get from actual law enforcement. But this isn’t new information.

Black women, especially know how little our safety matters to the general public. Just look at how long it took to convict R. Kelly! On Monday, September 27, 2021, the R&B singer was FINALLY convicted of nine federal sex trafficking and racketeering charges after actual DECADES of raping, kidnapping, and abusing Black girls and women. DECADES!!! And to be totally honest, these convictions wouldn’t ever have happened without the relentless, grass roots efforts of Black women activists who, slowly and steadily, kept up the pressure to bring this prolific pedophile to some inkling of justice.

The fact of the matter is the United States is a deeply racist, violently patriarchal society that does an abysmal job of protecting the rights, autonomy, and safety of women. Full stop. It’s at least 100 times worse for Black, brown, or indigenous women. As I type this, individual states actively seek to dismantle our hard-won reproductive and voting rights. Incidents of domestic and intimate partner violence have escalated to record levels thanks to the pandemic. And according to recent headlines, the country recently recorded the largest annual increase in murders in six decades.

So, things are grim for women of color here in the good ol’ U. S. of A. But you already knew that. That’s why I didn’t want to turn this into a Gabby Petito versus women of color type piece. Because what happened to Petito does warrant our attention. Not because she’s white. And not because the thousands of other missing Black, brown and indigenous women don’t warrant our attention, too. They do.

But I don’t want that to detract from the fact that violence against women continues to go largely unchecked in this country. Gabby’s case perfectly illustrates this. From what I can discern from all the information shared about her situation, what happened to Gabby happens to far too many women far too often:

Just over two weeks before she went missing, witnesses reported a violent altercation between Petito and her boyfriend/fiancé Brian Laundrie. The witnesses told law enforcement that they’d seen Laundrie slapping and hitting Gabby. But when the police came, they simply separated the couple for the night, presumably so that they could “cool off.” The couple were adamant that they were in love and didn’t want anyone charged with a crime. The police officer reported that Gabby was “confused and emotional.” He went on to report that “After evaluating the totality of the circumstances, I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis.”

So, you get reports from a witness who says that a man was slapping and hitting a woman. You investigate and learn that the couple did have “a physical altercation following an argument”, but they are “in love” and don’t want anyone to be charged. Then … and here’s the kicker for me … the officer says the woman (Gabby) is “confused and emotional” and that problem isn’t domestic assault, it’s a mental health crisis.

A mental health crisis.

And the officer’s solution was that they should just separate for the night and that’s it? WHAT THE HELL KIND OF TRAINING DO THEY GIVE POLICE IN MOAB, UTAH??? Because even if she was having a mental health CRISIS, on what planet do you simply let her sleep in her van for the night instead of getting her some mental health HELP??

If Gabby was “confused and emotional” following a violent altercation with her boyfriend/fiancé, where witnesses saw him HIT HER, why would your only solution be to just separate them for the night, allowing her to sleep in her van alone?

And now Gabby is dead, presumably murdered by Laundrie, who remains missing.

Both as a mental health crisis case and a domestic violence case, this kind of deep systemic failure happens all the time. Especially to women. That it happened to a pretty, young white woman who seems “worthy” enough to warrant wall-to-wall news coverage ought to tell you how bad it is for Black, brown, and indigenous women in similar circumstances.

The police mishandled the whole thing, imho. I don’t know how things work in Moab, Utah. But even I know that whether he saw a mental health crisis or a domestic violence crisis, that police officer failed Gabby Petito miserably. He should have insisted she get checked out at a hospital, at the very least. Let medical experts determine the problem. Let a medical exam show if there were signs of physical abuse. Let a medical team intervene if she was, indeed, having a mental health breakdown. Maybe, alone with a medical professional, Gabby Petito would have had a chance to tell her side of the story.

Instead, Gabby spent that night alone in her van. A month and a half later, her remains were discovered after an exhaustive search, and Brian Laundrie got to go home to his family. Now he’s missing and is sought in connection to Gabby’s murder. What a horrible story.

Every single day, Black, brown, and indigenous women get abused, have mental health crises, go missing, and get murdered without dominating the news cycles for weeks on end. These girls and women leave behind families and friends who love them and desperately seek their safe return. But those families, our families won’t get the closure, albeit tragic, that Gabby Petito’s family gets. We rarely do.

Here are some numbers you should always keep nearby, either of which, that officer in Utah could have used and possibly saved Gabby’s life. I hope you never need them, but if you do, they could save your life.

Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE(7233)

Mental Health Crisis/Suicide Hotline: 800-273-TALK(8255)


  1. Michelle

    Excellent article, Janice When I first read the story behind Gabby Petito’s ‘disappearance’, I thought that she’d disappeared long before what happened in Utah. That Gabby disappeared (was invisible) when the police failed her when they did not insist on bringing in a mental health professional. The police admitted that she was disoriented. This is yet another case for defunding law enforcement for the sake of funding more mental health resources. I would say that a mental health professional should be deployed on every single domestic violence call to try to understand if one party or the other is being unduly coerced to not press charges, and if there are minors in the circumstance that they are also safe.