Missing from the media 

Drue Wigton //

abuse, murder, missing persons case 

On the date of September 11, 2021, it was reported that 22-year old Gabby Petito was missing after she didn’t return with her boyfriend after a month-long trip in their shared van across the country. It wasn’t long until the case went viral; it was a hot topic for true-crime podcasts, it was a trending topic on social media outlets such as twitter and tiktok, and the message that Petito was missing spread across the news like wildfire. Everyone was wondering where Gabby Petito could be. 

As the at-home detectives and actually-employed authorities began to dig deeper into the case, it was released that earlier in the year, the police were notified about a dispute that Petito and her current boyfriend were involved in. Body camera footage was released, and there were concerns raised about the couples’ demeanor with each other and how the situation was handled and ultimately resolved by the police, but these concerns were ignored. Fast forward a month, Petito is missing. 

This case could be used to showcase many issues that women face when it comes to crimes. The argument the police were called to prior to Gabby’s disappearance is my first place of concern. This is one case of many where the mental state of those involved and the severity of the incident at hand are ignored in order to avoid pressing charges and elongating the legal process. There are many outlets where those who want to listen to/watch the body camera evidence can do so freely, and after doing that myself, it is unnerving to see the dynamics between Petito, her boyfriend, and the authorities. 

There are multiple signs of domestic abuse between Petito and her boyfriend, and most of them seem to go unnoticed by the cops on the scene. For example, both of them provided the cops with different stories, however, both of the stories seemed to place the blame on Gabby, stating that the car was swerving on the road due to the fact that Gabby was hitting her boyfriend for differing reasons. Uninvestigated by the police, it is compelling looking at the two different stories, and how Gabby ultimately seems to be taking the blame. The victim blaming, or even the victim taking the blame, is just one small example of the commonalities found in domestic abuse cases. When unignored, even this one commonality has proven to be detrimental, and oftentimes lethal. 

To mention my second area of concern, it is important to mention media coverage of missing persons cases and how big of a role the public actually plays. Although Petito’s case is heartbreaking, we need to acknowledge the majority of disappearances that never make it to the press. Around 40% of reported missing-people cases are people of color (https://blackandmissinginc.com/statistics/), and this makes up an extremely small percentage of the cases that gain nation-wide attention or a viral status. It’s important to ask ourselves why this happens and how we can change the statistics. Among people of color and missing-person cases, there is a lack of social media representation, a lack of news coverage, a lack of general interest from the public, as well as a lack of effort coming from legal systems in general. It’s very often that a murder investigation is never opened, and these cases are written off as something else, which often times places the “blame” on the victim of the disappearance.

It now becomes a question of how much importance the public has when it comes to cases such as Petito’s, and how much control the media has over coverage and community involvement. Everyone is still second-handedly involved in Petito’s case: the true-crime junkies, the ones who scrolled onto a video about the case on their “for you page,” and now most importantly, the investigators. Going forward, I truly believe there needs to be a larger push for recognition of unsolved crimes and current cases outside of the scope of the white woman. There has been an increased awareness brought forward because of the publicity of Petito’s case, however, we need to take the right steps to ensure that this too is not swept under the rug. The media at large needs to resensitize itself to missing persons cases when they are not about a white woman, because a missing persons is a human that is missing no matter what. 

For a current list of missing POC: https://blackandmissinginc.com/

For a current list of missing persons: https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/kidnap

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