I have been completely taken with the case of the missing girl, Gabby Petito. The more and more that has been brought the light, the more it hits home. Watching this all play out, watching the videos, watching Gabby, it is all too familiar. If you haven’t gone through the gaslighting, the mental and emotional torture, you may not understand and may look at Brian as a nice guy and Gabby as someone who “has some issues”. But from someone who has been there, you can see all of the signs. This case completely breaks my heart. I see her. I see her just trying to hold it together. I see her being beholden to him. I see her trying to keep smiling and to appease him. Not to trigger him. To let him take the lead. To let him be right. To take the comments about her not being able to accomplish what she wants to accomplish and believe them. To listen to all of the criticisms and believe they are true. To become a shell of a person while still fighting to keep who she is. And not telling anyone because she hasn’t reached that place yet where she’s ready to start all over and admit everything that has happened to her. Because who will believe her? Even in the police video of them being detained for “possible” domestic violence, he was “willing to go to jail for her”. What a nice guy, right? She took the blame. It was all her fault, she told them. She was the aggressor, she told them. She was too nitpicky about cleaning and it made him upset but that was her fault too. I see her. And I see all of the red flags. Because I was her. But I was able to leave.
They were in love. She loved him. He wanted to be her best friend. That missing piece. That one to take care of her and help her live out her dreams. Slowly, she was separated from everyone but in a way where he made her feel like he was going to take care of her but in all reality, she was isolated and controlled. But it wasn’t apparent to others. To others, he seemed like the doting, loving, totally enamored with her, boyfriend/fiancé. How could you explain to someone that he calls too much to say I love you/I’m thinking about you/showing interest in what you are doing when you are not with them and that it’s a bad thing? They don’t know that although they seem super willing to see you happy to go out with a friend, the payback after is not so loving, not so nice, not so sweet. The mental anguish that comes after ‘being allowed’ to go out starts to not be worth it. And the controlling continues. So you may stop going out with friends. You spend all of your time with him. You try and make things happy and content because you love him and want things to be good. When things are good, they are really good. After all, he’s your best friend.
I see all of this and more with Gabby. She’s fierce, sweet, strong, determined to make her mark in the world and the drive to make it happen. And at first, it seemed that she found a partner that wanted all of those things for her. She loved him and he loved her and so he wouldn’t do anything to hurt her. By the last time we all see Gabby, you see someone who is described by her fiancé as crazy, someone who has handprints imprinted into her arm and injuries to her face from where he says he held her away from going crazy on him. Meanwhile, before the video, eyewitnesses called in to describe him hitting her and her being locked out of the car, her car (he admitted this but said it was so she would calm down). She tried to get back into the van because she was afraid he would leave her, as he probably has threatened to do before. But even with all of that, she took the blame. She took responsibility. If he got in trouble, it would be hell for her and she just needed to keep the status quo. Keep everything as steady as possible and all will be fine. You get conditioned to not make waves. Waves are bad. Steady is good. Steady gives you a little bit of peace and quiet and could even allow you to experience a little joy. I see all of this in Gabby just as many other DV survivors have spoken up about as well.
People ask why one wouldn’t just leave if it’s so bad. When you are controlled in such a way, it’s not easy to do. You are broken down, stripped of your support system and end up completely reliant on the one person who has taken everything else away. You don’t even talk on the phone anymore, text or email because there is no such thing as privacy. You are conditioned to believe anything bad that happens is your fault and and that you are just not good enough to deserve anything better. And when they feel you getting a little strength back and a little pep back in your step, they will come and steal that too. You become a shell of a person. You live to keep the peace. You watch as they perform for others but know what it is like behind closed doors but you can’t say anything. They manipulate you and others so no one would ever believe you, the crazy one. She’s just crazy. So when you ask why they won’t reach out for help, it’s because they don’t think anyone would believe them. They are told they are crazy, that it’s all in their head. They are making a big deal out of nothing, overreacting, being dramatic, and so on. And you believe it. You second guess every single decision you make. And let’s say, they try and reach out for help. Did you know that many states do not recognize emotional abuse because it’s so hard to prove? It’s easier if you have bruises but if you have someone doing all of this to you without physical abuse, you really do not have much recourse as far as the legal system goes. Been there. Experienced that for myself. I was told that it would be easier to help me if I had bruises. THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE!
I write all of this to show that it does happen. It happens so much more than people realize. I do not blame the police for their non-action for Gabby but I use it as an example of a big glaring hole that needs to be fixed. Domestic violence training and education needs to be a major part of every police academy. Abuse is not always readily visible but the red flags are there for a person who is trained to recognize them. There were red flags all over the video with Gabby. She could have been saved right then and there. This needs to be changed! The public also needs to understand how to recognize this abuse as well. I have seen comments from people who have never been in the position that Gabby and other DV survivors have been in simply state that she should have just left. Or even worse, they say she was the abuser. She’s the one that is not here with us. The toll emotional/mental abuse takes on a person takes them to the brink and back again and again and again. The roller coaster that the abused have to ride every single day takes every bit of strength from them. They are left as shells of the person they once were.
I ask you to take a look around at your friends and family and see if there are those same red flags that were there in Gabby’s situation. A friend who was once strong and independent who has now pulled away. A friend who once had her own voice now seemingly silenced. A friend who can no longer even talk on the phone without being interrupted by her partner. A friend who was the bubbly life of the party now who seems to have lost that sparkle in her eye. Look beyond the thought of ‘Oh she is just being respectful by checking in with her partner’. Or ‘that’s so sweet that he thinks of her so much and calls her to tell her’. Recognize the mismatch of the overacting of the one partner with the quietness and inability to corroborate the partner’s exuberance. And if you see someone crying like Gabby was crying, know that she’s not ‘crazy’ and ‘overreacting’ and ‘just needs to calm down’. There’s a reason why. Check in on those friends. Give them an unconditional ear. Although you may not understand how this strong, independent, fierce woman could just let someone take her over, it happens. And all that person needs is that one person who sees her. See her! And be there for her. No one deserves the abuse that Gabby suffered. And Gabby should be here today. Help save the next girl. Reach out. Say something. She may tell you that everything is ok. Remember the red flags. Try again. And again. And again. She is worth it. Do it for Gabby. You never know what a difference you can make. ❤
Domestic violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233