InJune, 22-year-old Gabby Petito and her fiance Brian Laundrie embarked on a cross-country road trip. For the majority of the trip, Petito maintained regular contact with her friends and family, but her communication abruptly stopped at the end of August. Laundrie returned home from the road trip alone on Sept. 1, offering no mention of the whereabouts or conditions of his fiance. Ten days later, Petito was reported missing by her parents.
In the weeks after her disappearance, her case gained national interest among officials and the general public as media outlets began to pick up on her story.
Within days of reporting her disappearance, the FBI became involved with Petito’s case. On Sept. 19, herremains were found in Wyoming by law enforcement. The FBI soonruled the death a homicide, listing her fiance as a person of interest in her murder. Local law enforcement and the FBI arecurrently searching for Laundrie after he left his parents’ house in Florida.
The search for Petito — and now the manhunt for her fiance — also gained substantial traction through varioussocial media platforms. Since her reported disappearance just a few weeks ago, thehashtag #gabbypetito has garnered over 1.3 billion views across thousands of videos on TikTok. Some of these videos come from concerned users and content creators who aim to use their platforms to spread awareness regarding Petito’s case in a genuine attempt to help solve the case.
However, another section of social media seems to be centered around the enticement and fascination surrounding the mystery of Petito’s disappearance. ‘Amateur detectives’ began to take it upon themselves to detail their own personal investigation of the case, including hashtags like #crimejunkie and #truecrime. This increasing trend in the sensationalization of violence against women desensitizes audiences into watching tragedies unfold for entertainment. Additionally, it creates a social environment devoid of consideration of the real impacts of this violence on victims and their families.
As efforts to bring Petito’s murderer to justice persist, many have begun to question why Petito — a young, conventionally attractive white woman — gained such rapid and widespread attention while the disappearances of millions of other people, particularly women of color, go largely unnoticed.
In 2021, theNational Public Radio reported that there were nearly 100,000 Black women missing in the United States as of last year. TheNational Crime Information Center reported nearly 6,000 cases of missing Indigenous women as of 2016 while theU.S. Department of Justice reported only 116. The discrepancy between these numbers depicts an erasure of the violence experienced by non-white women. We rarely see the kind of attention Petito’s disappearance received extended to the women of color who go missing each year — a trend in disproportionate media coverage known as “missing white woman syndrome.”
On Sept. 28, Petito’s father,Joseph Petito, spoke with a room of reporters regarding his daughter’s disappearance and murder. “I want to ask everyone to help all the people that are missing … It’s on all of you, everyone that’s in this room to do that,” he said, pointing to the reporters and cameras in front of him. “And if you don’t do that for other people that are missing, that’s a shame, because it’s not just Gabby that deserves it.”
Ultimately, there are two important messages which must be heard and understood throughout the community in the wake of Petito’s tragic death. The first is that cases of violence against women must be treated with more dignity, respect and consideration for the harm that is inflicted, not only through the acts of violence themselves but also through the insensitive public discourse that follows.
Additionally, Petito’s case, while entirely deserving of the attention and urgency it received, highlighted the disparity between the hyper attentiveness toward disappearances of white women versus the general apathy toward the disappearances of women of color. These conversations, whether they are broadcasted through media outlets or shared among members of the public, must involve greater attention and action toward violence perpetrated against women of color and transgender women. These intersectional demographics, who sufferdisproportionately from acts of violence, are too often left out of our conversations.This apathy inevitably exacerbates the immense systemic and generational trauma inflicted upon women in minority demographics. Justice will never truly be served until all instances of violence against women receive the attention they deserve.