Volume XXIII

Disparities in Law Enforcement's Involvement with Domestic Violence Cases for Black and Native American Women: How the Global Attention to Gabby Petito's Murder Sparked Conversations of the Silent Victims

by Sophia Blake

In 1994, American football player O.J. Simpson’s wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, was murdered in front of their home in California. The case sparked a media phenomenon and subsequently started a movement for victims and activists of domestic violence awareness. The worldwide coverage of the domestic violence between O.J. and Nicole Simpson increased the nation’s awareness of the systematic issue of intimate partner abuse. However, many scholars and domestic violence activists recognized that the issue was largely gaining popularity because Nicole Simpson embodied the “ideal American victim:” a white woman. Twenty-five years later, the disproportionate attention the public pays to intimate. partner violence when the victim is white remains a pressing issue.

On September 11, 2021, twenty-two-year-old Gabby Petito’s parents reported her missing.  At the beginning of the summer, Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, set out on a cross-country road trip, documented by Petito on Instagram. But on September 1, Laundrie returned to his home in Florida in Petito’s van, without Petito. The story sent shock-waves throughout the nation, inspiring many to use their own social media platforms, such as TikTok and Twitter, to spread awareness about the missing twenty-two year old, and to helplaw enforcement find her.  Within five days of Petito being reported missing, law enforcement began to investigate Laundrie, ultimately sending fifty law enforcement officers from local agencies and the FBI to the Carlton Reserve in Florida in search of Laundrie. The FBI also began to search the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, where Petito was last believed to be, and where her remains were ultimately discovered on September 19th.  The national coverage of the search for the two illuminated that the young couple may not have been living the “happily ever after” social media had made it seem. As the case unfolded, both law enforcement officers and other passerby reported they had witnessed the couple engaged in arguments, and potentially, domestic violence disputes, on their trip.

Gabby Petito and Nicole Simpson are far from alone in experiencing domestic and intimate partner violence. The news and social media attention surrounding Petito’s case and the domestic violence she may have endured inspired many families of other missing persons and domestic violence victims to voice their dismay with the grave disparities in how law enforcement handles domestic violence or missing persons’ cases when it involves a young, white woman compared to people of color …

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