Social worker says Petito case highlights big concern in Utah: abusive relationships

Oct 1, 2021, 10:51 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — Moab Police shared new body camera video Friday of their encounter with Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie when the couple was in Utah, shedding new light on what happened in the moments before police got called out to investigate the domestic violence incident.

Sadly, Petito’s murder a few weeks later underscores the dozens of domestic violence-related homicides in the state of Utah every year.

Domestic violence was responsible for nearly 45% of Utah’s murders in 2020.

It’s why advocates say Petito’s case isn’t an isolated event.

“Did you get hit in the face? It kind of looks like someone hit you in the face,” a Moab Police Officer asked Gabby Petito on Aug. 12.

“I guess, yeah, but I hit him first,” Petito responded.

“Where did he hit you?” the officer said.

“Well, he like, grabbed my face,” Petito said. “I was just apologizing, but I guess I said it in a mean tone and he got really frustrated with me and locked me out of the car and told me to take a breather.”

Jenn Oxborrow, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of Allies with Families, said even though Gabby Petito was deemed the dominant aggressor in the Aug. 12 domestic incident with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, the couple was displaying clear warning signs of a toxic relationship.

“She’s very, very emotional. She’s very upset, she’s minimizing, she’s normalizing, and we see survivors step up with that kind of behavior often because they are trying to protect themselves,” said Oxborrow. “If she’s not trying to leave that relationship, she may be trying to survive it.”

Sadly, Oxborrow said Petito’s tragic death a few weeks later fits a pattern.

“92% of females killed in our country are killed by boyfriends, husbands, ex-husbands, family members,” she said.

And it’s that complicated relationship that makes domestic violence cases so difficult for law enforcement to untangle.

“I thought officers did a good job of trying to give them some space and trying to de-escalate the situation,” said Oxborrow.

While we may never know what exactly happened between the couple, Oxborrow said, “I think Gabby was especially isolated in this environment she was living in, and that can exasperate risk as well.”

The social worker said the sad reality of high profile cases like Petito’s can help other victims, or those on the verge of becoming a victimizer, to recognize the red flags before it’s too late.

“It’s not normal. It’s not normal to have violence or aggression in any way,” said Oxborrow. “If you can’t find a way to have a healthy exchange and resolve conflicts, disagreements and find solutions, that is a giant red flag. It is never okay to be violent.”

It’s important to note, Laundrie is only considered a person of interest in Petito’s murder at this time.

If you or anyone you know needs help, you can call the Utah Domestic Vioelence Coalition at 1-800-897-LINK (5465).

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Social worker says Petito case highlights big concern in Utah: abusive relationships