In the time that Gabby Petito went missing, another 100 women have lost their lives. Gabby isn’t a rare thing, it’s an every day thing. The murder of women is an every day thing in the United States.
I’m just going to repeat this for those in back: domestic violence kills women every day in the United States.
So often in discussing these cases I hear how heartbroken folks are, how devastating this is. It is, it does break hearts. But those of us privileged enough to not be directly affected by this, can we do more?
You see, murders like Gabby’s are entirely preventable with a little care and education. The apathy shown by North Folks police department in the dash cam videos is the same apathy I’ve seen from police departments I’ve interacted with.
Gabby’s presentation in those dash cam videos was so hard to watch — it felt like I was watching the dash cam videos of anytime I’ve interacted with police over the years. It felt like I was experiencing the pain, fear, and panic from those moments all over again. Sleeping has been next to impossible since watching those dash cam videos.
Fatal Domestic Violence is Preventable
How can I possibly say domestic violence is preventable? Because I’m alive. See four years ago I was threatened with a firearm after a few years of stomaching concerning behaviors, death threats, coercive control, and more. The thing I credit every day with being alive is my own tenacity and Kathy Jones.
After I first filed for a restraining order in 2015, I learned of a murder within my own circle, Laura Beebe of Killingworth. Her sister was someone that I had served on Block Island in the past, and I just saw the writing on the wall immediately. That restraining order failed, and I did everything I could to make him happy after, occasionally loosing patience and trying to reaffirm healthy boundaries. I knew police and the courts would never help me the way I (or Laura) deserved.
After 2 years of escalating violence, and concerning behaviors, I was threatened with a firearm for trying to pick up my son per the court order. This broke me. On some level I knew if I didn’t get help I was going to become another “we can’t believe she’s dead.”
I called an expert who pretty eloquently told me that “there was no hope for me.” To say this hit deep is an understatement — fortunately I’m also the type of person that’s motivated by being told they can’t do something. I called more experts, eventually finding Kathy Jones.
Kathy changed my life in the first phone call, and to watch the unraveling of his abuse is something I wish I could relive every day. I got honest, I started to believe in myself again. Kathy did for me what every advocate should be doing for victims: she built agency, confidence, and autonomy.
I started to see not just the big abusive things, but the little things. The little red flags that I just overlooked or blamed on mental health disorders. I stopped putting responsibility on the courts and police to save me and my son, and I started creating safety plans that worked.
Despite living as a targeted person to someone labeled a high risk abuser, in multiple courts, who has threatened to and made attempts on my life I’m alive years later. It wasn’t CCADV or VTNADV that saved me, although the Safe at Home Project certainly is a big part of my safety planning.
I stopped accepting the shortcomings of courts and police as the end all be all for getting help. I started climbing chain of commands, filing complaints, making the abuse public, advocating in the State House, and to be frank, I stopped accepting support, and services that were less than what I deserved and needed to stay safe.
This journey and unraveling of what I had always accepted has given me tremendous insight into how to prevent domestic violence. Some of this knowledge went into Jennifers’ Law, a coercive control law pushed and enacted in Connecticut, named for Jennifer Mangano and Jennifer Dulos.
When considering how we can address the pandemic of fatal gender violence in the US, coercive control laws is such a great beginning. But let’s start even simpler. Teach everyone that women they deserve great things. Equal pay, equal opportunities — teaching everyone that women are equal to men teaches men to value women equally, while helping support confidence, autonomy and agency in women.
What can we do to prevent the next Gabby Petito
Now, these are all big things, and while the entire nation is totally engrossed in the Gabby Petito case, with whole boards of influencers turning their pages into home detective units to save Gabby, I’d love to see the narratives shift to what can we do to prevent the next Gabby. There’s things anyone and everyone can do.
Teach your kids healthy boundaries. Whether it be consent or asking for help, teaching your children healthy boundaries is key to preventing domestic violence. Go a step further and teach equality, empathy, and compassion. Understanding that we are equal, and having empathy for others has been shown to help reduce controlling behaviors from convicted abusers.
Donate money is an easy one — domestic violence agencies just don’t have enough. But don’t just donate to the state and federally funded agencies, find local grass roots folks like Kathy Jones — they’re often shouldering the cases that agencies and systems have failed. Pour money into coercive control laws. These need to be passed federally, not just at state levels.
Learn about domestic violence. The way most friends and family respond to domestic violence doesn’t actually help. Getting frustrated with someone for not leaving is valid, but often people can’t just leave. There’s lots of nuances to domestic violence and working with victims in a way that empowers them to leave. Just holding safe space for someone to speak out-loud the things that they’re facing was one of the most powerful things anyone did for me. Give that to your friends and family experiencing domestic violence if you don’t know what else to do.
Support coercive control laws and strict accountability for abusers. Right now there is a grass roots movement shouldered by victims of predominantly chronic abuse to get coercive control laws passed nationwide. So far, CA, HI, and CT have passed some, with many states trying to introduce these laws. Ask your state Reps and Senators what they’ve heard about coercive control laws and advocate that your state needs them. Strict accountability for abusive and controlling behaviors is the only effective way to change patterns of abuse, and protect victims. Advocate for strict accountability with your state leaders, and help echo those advocating for strict accountability.
In writing this my hope is that folks consider how fascinated they’ve been with the Petito case, and where those motivations are coming from. If you’re interested in this case, be interested and invested in the hundred more murders that have happened since she first went missing, and things you can do to change these statistics. If you need more ideas of ways to help change our systems don’t hesitate to reach out.