The mysterious disappearance and now confirmed murder of 22-year-old Gabby Petito in the US has gripped the world over recent weeks.
But as details trickle in about Petito’s tumultuous relationship with boyfriend Brian Laundrie, their public altercations over the course of their road trip and his evident abuse of her, the mystery lifts: Gabby Petito was a victim of domestic violence who lost her life because the system failed to protect her.
New audio of the dispatch call made to police in relation to an argument between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie has been exposed this week along with the intel that Utah officers had been advised of a man striking a woman and taking off in a white Ford Transit van with Florida plates shortly prior to them pulling over the young couple.
The report made was that he had struck her. He had abused her. And yet officers concluded that Gabby Petito had been the primary aggressor.
Witnesses reported seeing the couple fighting outside an organic grocery store in downtown Moab. One caller told police he saw Laundrie slapping and hitting Petito. Another witness said he had seen Laundrie snatching his fiancé’s phone and driving away without her.
But one other witness, identified only as “Christopher” denied seeing Laundrie’s attack, according to the Moab Police Department’s incident report.
“The witness says, ‘I never saw him hit her. I saw him shove her, but I couldn’t tell if it was an aggression against her or her defence against her as far as her being the aggressor,’” one of the officers says in the bodycam recording.
“So at this point, unless the guy’s screaming that he’s going to jail and did something to this girl, it sounds like she is the primary aggressor.”
An inconsolable Gabby Petito admitted to officers that Laundrie had tried to keep her out of the van. She repeatedly apologised for the disturbance, blaming herself for the escalation in her boyfriend’s actions. Police with any expertise in domestic violence would have examined her straight away for what she was: a vulnerable and terrified victim.
Instead, Brian Laundrie got away. No arrests or citations were issued, with the police opting to separate the couple for the night, driving Laundrie to a city motel and leaving Petito alone in her van in which the couple had been living.
Neither the motel management nor police could confirm that Laundrie stayed there that night, and a fortnight later, Gabby Petito would be dead.
While the police in question will likely face disciplinary action, it’s critical to note that their conduct was not an anomaly. Time and time again we hear of law enforcement and policy gaps failing victims of domestic and family violence– not just in America but in our very own backyard.
Just last week, Victoria Police defended their leaking of a domestic violence survivor’s safety plan in court, despite two previous investigations and IBAC’s assessment that the information should not have been disclosed.
Michelle* was a victim of severe domestic violence at the hands of her ex-partner John*, a serving member of Victoria Police at the time of his offending between 2017 and 2020.
When John heard a “rumour” about Michelle’s escape plan from police colleagues, he confronted her resulting in further sexual and physical abuse.
Speaking to the ABC *Michelle said the police’s conduct had been “a breach of the law — they think the law doesn’t apply to them.”
An IBAC spokeswoman agreed, saying confidential details that were leaked about *Michelle’s plans were “very concerning”.
“As Victoria’s independent police oversight agency, IBAC is now seeking a full explanation from Victoria Police as to how this matter has been handled,” she said.
For migrant and linguistically diverse women in Australia, the likelihood of being dismissed by law enforcement is even more acute.
*Lillian, a Chinese woman who was slashed by her husband with a military style knife, called Queensland police with the chilling message: “my husband wants to kill me”.
When they arrived an hour later, they failed to ask *Lillian any questions other than whether or not she spoke English. Instead of bringing in an interpreter when she replied that she didn’t, the officers reportedly ignored her and went onto interview her Australian husband, concluding that a bleeding *Lillian had actually been the perpetrator.
Fearing the loss of custody of her child, Lillian was forced to return to her abusive relationship in order to protect her visa status.
In the high profile, horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children in 2020, Queensland police conceded that Rowan Baxter had a history of domestic violence and was known to them.
Moreover, police incited widespread fury when they claimed to be keeping an “open mind” about suggestions that Baxter had been “driven too far”.
The sickening inference very clearly that Hannah Clarke may have done something to trigger his murderous rampage.
When a tragedy like Gabby Petito’s murder occurs we’re thrust into a state of shock. We observe the facts as an aberration. But they’re not.
These accounts do not exist in a vacuum. There are thousands more stories like this and women like Hannah Clarke, *Lillian, *Michelle and Gabby Petito are being failed every day by a system that doesn’t care enough to do better.