The Gabby Petito Case Sheds Light On Racism Within The Media: Here’s Why
Gabby deserves justice, but so do all the others who never got the attention.
It's not just true crime fans who have been following the missing persons (and now officially homicide) case of 22-year-old Gabby Petito. Gabby and her fiance departed for a cross country road trip in a van they outfitted to function as their accommodations.
Things appeared to be going well until mid-August when the pair had a fight that resulted in a police report. No charges were filed, but the police advised the couple to spend the night apart. The last solidified communication from Gabby took place sometime on August 24-26. On the 24th, a FaceTime call with her mom. On the 26th, the final post on her Instagram account.
While other texts were sent from Gabby's phone as late as August 30th, her family holds suspicion that they did not come from her, due to referring to her grandfather by his first name and other indications not known publicly.
Gabby's fiance, Brian Laundrie, then returned to Florida (where the couple lived) with the van, but without Gabby. Brian has since gone missing also. It was about ten days later when Gabby's family reported her missing.
Currently, there are roughly about 1,600 unresolved missing persons cases involving National Parks or protected wilderness. Though, this number is from 2017, so it is likely higher. About one-third of women killed in the United States are killed due to or during a domestic incident and 92% of female homicide victims knew their killers.
So, with so many other cases like Gabby's, why did hers capture the nation and have us all checking our phones for the latest updates? As an avid true crime lover, I think I can provide some insight.
1). She's young
At only 22, Gabby still had her entire life ahead of her. Anyone would be concerned or saddened by the disappearance and/or death of a woman her age. Though, she sits firmly within the demographic of women most likely to be victims of homicide (disputed but estimated to be between 18-24).
2). She's white
Missing white women get more press. If you belong to true crime circles, you may already know about the disproportionate amount of missing and murdered indigenous and First Nations people in the United States and Canada. You may know that people of color are more likely to be victims of violent crime. Trans women of color have among the highest murder rates of any demographic.
Yet, if you turn on any major news outlet, you will only hear about the missing white mother, the pretty college student who disappeared, and the little blonde girl taken from a mall.
It's unlikely that you'll hear about the nearly 40 transgender victims of violence (most of which were people of color), the University of Washington professor who went missing at Mount Rainer nearly a year ago, or the hit-and-run death of a Miami teenager in May.
These may make local news for a few days or weeks, but none see the attention of Gabby Petito's case. And, this is no coincidence. In fact, if you look at nearly all of the nationally reported, high profile missing persons cases of the past two decades, nearly every single one was a white woman or girl. To name a few: Susan Powell, Madeline McCann, Shanann Watts, Natalie Holloway, Mollie Tibbets.
History and literature, especially African American literature, have long been critical of the idea of the "perfect white woman." White women are "pure", "ideal", and "fragile". Not only must they be protected, but they must also be controlled to keep them from making decisions that would harm the white man's agenda. (I recommend Native Son by Richard Wright for more insight into this trope/cultural mindset).
This can be seen in the agendas of various white supremacy groups, miscegenation laws, and many cases like that of Emmett Till. While most people would like to believe that such overt racism and idolization of the cis-white female is behind us, it isn't. While the overtness may not be mainstream anymore, it is still subtly there within our culture.
One of the ways it persists is within the near deification of cis-white female murder victims. While this wouldn't necessarily be an issue if people of color received the same treatment, they simply do not. Of course, there are so many missing and murdered people, they can't all receive media attention.
But, when taking a look at Gabby's case, there's nothing too special about it. While I am hesitant to brazenly declare the suspected murderer because not much is known yet, the Occam's razor approach would indicate that her fiance is responsible for her death. If it were not for the circumstances of Gabby's background, she likely would've only received local media and a special on the ID channel.
While there are more nuances within the race aspect of how the media and true crim enthusiasts treat race (such as how people of color are often blamed by bystanders or witnesses regardless of if the perpetrator was a person of color. Murderers also frequently cite a man of color as the murderer when attempting to cover their tracks).
But, these are other articles for other days. Let's move on to the final two reasons.
#3: She was affluent
Now, before I get into this, this is less about Gabby's personal affluence and more about the affluence of her town (and I think it's safe to assume her family). While Gabby did work to save up for the trip, that in itself is a luxury. Many cannot save for something, especially in a relatively short period as she did.
Gabby is originally from Blue Point, New York where the average household income is $70,333. Solidly upper middle class. This allows for her family to solicit more press, raise money for her search (via her affluent community), and for people to, in general, pay more attention to her.
Victims of murder from less affluent circumstances are less likely to receive attention for a multitude of reasons: 1). The family cannot afford to hire a private investigator 2). The family cannot afford to raise awareness (via time off work and purchasing the necessary materials) 3). It is expected that people of lower economic status are more likely to be victims of violent crime, and, therefore, it is deemed less newsworthy.
#4: She was an attractive influencer
Prominence and beauty continue to go a long way in the eyes of the public. If Gabby had not been a semi-successful influencer, if she had not been slim, blonde, and pretty, would she have gotten the same amount of press? Maybe, maybe not. But older women, less physically attractive women, and those without a big Instagram following also went missing in national parks this year, including a 34-year-old woman in Glacier National Park.
In summation, I would like to say that I am not trying to belittle Gabby's case. It is still a tragedy that should not have happened. A bright, young woman like Gabby does not deserve a death like the one she endured. I can only hope that the murderer is brought to justice.
That said, I think the reason Gabby's case garnered so much attention is because of the innate privilege she held in life. This is not her fault, of course, but it highlights a disparity within the reporting and coverage of murder cases. Search for and demand justice for Gabby, but also for the black transwomen killed every year in the United States, the missing and murdered indigenous women, and all of those who did not get to have their stories told or cases taken seriously.
Gabby's case will likely be solved because of the sheer amount of media it has received. Nearly everyone in the United States is invested in the case. How many other cases could be solved if given the same coverage and care?