Lessons From Gabby Petito’s Homicide: Where to Find Help Dealing with Domestic Violence at WPHS
By Letisha Baker
On September 19th, 2021, Gabby Petito was found strangled in Wyoming by her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie. Strangulation is rarely a one-off event and is often a sign of increasing violence in a relationship. According to a study conducted by The Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, 43% of women murdered by their intimate partners were strangled by them in the past year. Another study by the institute concludes that once a woman is strangled by her intimate partner, the likelihood of him killing her rises almost eightfold.
After looking further into the Gabby Petito case, I kept thinking to myself, "There must have been signs!" A boyfriend does not randomly decide to strangle his girlfriend. There is usually a build-up of violent acts leading to it. In Petito's case, there most definitely was. A month before her murder, the couple was pulled over by police in Moab, Utah, where a bystander had reported seeing Laundrie slapping Petito. Unfortunately, Petito did not press charges against Laundrie, and an officer at the scene said, "Both the male and female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn't wish to see anyone charged with a crime."
Victims of domestic violence stay with their abusers for various reasons, many of which are entirely out of their control. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says that some popular reasons why people stay are:
• Difficulties of single parenting and reduced financial circumstances
• Fear that the abuser's actions will become more violent and may become lethal if they leave
• Having nowhere to go
• Religious or cultural beliefs and practices that may not support divorce or may dictate outdated gender roles and keep the victim trapped in the relationship.
While we don't know the ins and outs of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie's relationship, we can use Gabby's tragic homicide as a learning lesson and sign to educate ourselves and those around us about the signs of domestic violence and how to help others in dangerous situations properly. Luckily for students at White Plains High School, there are a variety of excellent resources and people we can reach out to ask for assistance in dealing with abusive relationships. One of those resources is Margaret's Place.
The Margaret's Place Room is a safe room in schools where students can talk or hang out in a space where respect and confidentiality are prioritized. Margaret's Place was created by former baseball player Joe Torre who was impacted by domestic violence as a child. It's a service provided by his Safe At Home organization which works with children exposed to violence and abuse.
Margaret's Place at White Plains High School is run by the approachable and entertaining Ms. Yocasta, better known as Ms. Yogi. She's fostered a cozy environment in her room with couches and snacks that would make anyone feel comfortable opening up about their problems. Ms. Yogi is very open and honest; she even has a lot of personal anecdotes she often shares with students to relate to them. To clarify, she doesn't only deal with relationship issues. Domestic violence encompasses more than romantic relationships. The Oxford dictionary definition of domestic violence is "violent or aggressive behavior within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner." But victims of domestic violence can also include children, relatives, or any other household member.
Don't lose time figuring out if your situation qualifies as domestic violence or abuse; if you're concerned, seek help immediately. Ms. Yogi deals with anyone experiencing or witnessing violent relationships. The UN states that abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions. The UN goes on further to say that this includes "any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone."
During our interview, Ms. Yogi also told me about early signs of abusive relationships that might seem normal to us. She said, "The signs of abuse usually start very subtle. Sometimes it's cute when your boyfriend is a little jealous. It might start as an innocent 'where are you going looking so good' but later down the line turn into 'you're not going out dressed like that or 'you can't go out without me.' Jealousy is probably one of the biggest red flags. Another thing is oversharing information. Sharing passwords and locations at all times are signs of controlling and manipulative behavior that people need to be mindful of.”
A lot of people want and know they need help but still do not ask for it. In our interview, Ms. Yogi said that people don't want to reach out for help because they're embarrassed or feel shame. She said, "People have to understand that there's nothing shameful about asking for help. There are many pieces to domestic violence that we don't look at, and being embarrassed is such a big thing. Going to talk to someone about someone demeaning you or controlling you takes humility. Opening up is difficult when you're a tough person. The people we perceive as being so strong often stay in bad relationships and hide those red flags the longest."
The main point Ms. Yogi left me with is that toxic relationships are all around us. Culture has a lot to do with how we approach relationships because we internalize many things we hear and see growing up. Many kids grow up hearing things like "What happens in this house stays in this house," "Do not go running your business to people. They're gonna call CPS and take you away," "You better fix your face, or I'll fix it for you," "Do you want me to give you something to cry about?" When children hear this from parents or other authoritative figures, they assume that it's normal or acceptable behavior when it is not. We cannot ignore how race and intimate partner violence are linked. The Guardian reports a disturbing statistic that demonstrates this link: The homicide rate for Indigenous women and girls in the US is six times higher than it is for white women and girls, and 94% of cases are attributable to former or current partners. Unlearning what was normalized in our households is one step in the right direction of lowering the numbers of disproportionately affected minority women and children and is also at the forefront of Ms. Yogi's work.
You don't have too look far to find severe cases of domestic violence. Several fatal cases have happened in White Plains and neighboring cities. Some examples are:
- In 2015, a retired White Plains police officer, amid a divorce, shot and killed the family's three dogs, two of his daughters, and then himself.
-In 2016, a doctor in Scarsdale was stabbed to death by her husband five days before the first court proceeding for their divorce.
It's also important to remember that women can be aggressors too:
-In 2014, Hope Solo, an Olympic soccer player, assaulted her sister and 17-year-old nephew in a drunken rage.
If you or someone you know needs help, please come by Margaret's Place in Room E-212A in the PE Hallway. Ms. Yogi wants The Orange’s readers to know that meetings with her are confidential: "It's so important to be able to vent to someone. I do therapy without boundaries. You can come in here and tell me how you feel using any words you'd like. I'm not an academic counselor, and I'm not your school social worker. I am a social worker who works for a domestic violence program, and what happens in my room stays in my room with the exceptions of you being in some kind of danger or you putting someone else in danger, then it is my job to bring you to safety."