Like much of America, I have spent the last two weeks closely following the case of Gabrielle Petito, 22, who left home with a van and aspirations to see America but also a partner. which was later saw slapping and hit her, according to a caller to 911. On the police body camera Images taken a month before she went missing, Ms Petito says her fiance Brian Laundrie grabbed her by the chin and her face appears scratched.
His body was found on September 19 in a Wyoming national park, according to the FBI. Meanwhile, authorities are looking for Mr. Laundrie, who has been named a person of interest in the case.
This is, in many ways, America’s favorite story: the American woman who, last seen with her American man, is later found dead. And he performs in front of an American audience that seems surprised almost every time.
We don’t yet know if Ms Petito was murdered by her boyfriend or if there was continued abuse in their relationship. But the point is, intimate partner violence is epidemic in this country; we don’t always hear about it.
On 25 percent of women and 10 percent of men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence or harassment by an intimate partner. The majority of these women experienced these forms of violence for the first time when they were under the age of 25., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I personally know how quickly circumstances can become threatening. Seven years ago, I was in a lovely relationship, except when I wasn’t. Like Ms. Petito and Mr. Laundrie, my partner and I were in our twenties and traveling when this happened. Like her, I wanted to see the American West.
One evening my partner suddenly and uncontrollably became enraged. He was livid, gesticulated wildly and came closer to me. His demeanor was intimidating and terrifying, and although he didn’t hurt me physically, I believed that night that he would kill me.
I remember the evening and its purple sunset, the canyon we climbed to see it. And then I remember our conversation, its escalation. That night, I lay next to him for seven hours as he screamed, sobbed and raged and completely became someone else.
I didn’t tell anyone about it then because I was embarrassed that the person I loved was someone who could be so cruel to me. I thought I could hide this shame by posting an organized version of my life on social media – photos of the rocks we climbed at Joshua Tree or the yucca palms we cut in half to act as a natural desert sanitizer.
No one would have believed how scared I was of him as I posted my happy pictures, and I wouldn’t really have believed him either, because we don’t think these things happen to us until they do.
And yet, it happens every day, in our courtyards and our rooms.
We are fascinated by the stories of white women at risk, but the risk of this violence is significantly greater if you are a woman of color. About 56% of Native Americans or Alaskans women have experienced physical violence from an intimate partner. Over 40 percent of black women will suffer the same during their lifetime, and they are two and a half times more likely being murdered by men like white women.
The risks are also high for Americans who identify as LGBTQ.; According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women report rape, physical violence or harassment by an intimate partner, compared to 35% of heterosexual women. More than half of transgender and non-binary people responding to 2015 US Transgender Survey reported experiencing violence between intimate partners.
While Ms Petito’s case is an example of the problematic missing white woman syndrome phenomenon, the story amplifies crucial conversations about the need for all missing persons cases to receive the same heightened level of media coverage, the same. allocation of resources, the same deployment of law enforcement.
We also need to help vulnerable women before they need to be found. The National Network to End Domestic Violence has advocated for immigration reform that would protect women who fear their immigration status will be used against them if they report a crime or prosecute their partner.
We can also improve the way we respond to women in distress. Our law enforcement officers need additional training so they can better recognize body language and behaviors indicative of ongoing emotional, verbal and physical abuse. A clinical social worker should also be part of the team responding to domestic violence reports, to help defuse conflict and guide people at risk to safe shelters.
As we focus on Ms. Petito’s story, millions of other American women still suffer and, often, secretly suffer. It is important that we also learn their names. And it is absolutely vital that we hear their stories.
Amy Butcher is the author of the book “Mothertrucker,” which explores the silent epidemic of domestic violence in America and will be published in November.
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