CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Gabby Petito case brings domestic violence to the forefront

Sep 27, 2021, 7:00 AM | Updated: Sep 28, 2021, 12:30 pm

susan powell domestic violence...

Cold Podcast Host Dave Cawley and Utah Domestic Violence Coalition Executive Director Jenn Oxborrow speaking at a live event in May 2019. Photo: KSL TV

SALT LAKE CITY — The difficult topic of domestic violence is on the minds of many with the murder of Gabby Petito in the headlines. It’s an unfortunate fact that Utah is no stranger to the problem. 

Shining a Light on Domestic Violence 

On average, one in three Utah women will experience domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime. That’s higher than the national average of one in four. 

“We tend to have higher rates of domestic violence per capita,” said Liz Sollis with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. 

According to Sollis, the national average rose to one in three during the pandemic

The problem affects households, relationships, and families across the socioeconomic spectrum in Utah. 

“It happens in wealthy communities, it happens in poor communities, it happens in all different types of families and cultural backgrounds,” said licensed clinical social worker, Jenn Oxborrow. 

Oxborrow is executive director of Allies with Families, a statewide organization that provides family resources and counseling. She says domestic violence is a factor for 60% of the families Allies with Families works with. 

Men are also survivors of sexual or domestic violence. Sollis says an average of one in seven Utah men will experience it. 

Citing FBI data, Oxborrow says the most common cases, and the worst, involve men abusing women. 

“Overwhelmingly, the worst outcomes of domestic violence and abuse, domestic homicide, is typically perpetrated by a man against a woman,” says Oxborrow. 

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition says there were more than 30 domestic homicides in Utah during 2020. The official numbers for this year aren’t yet available but Sollis says the rate is remaining steady. 

High profile cases bring domestic violence to the forefront 

Petito’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie, does not face charges related to her murder, disappearance or a couple high profile public arguments. However, the audio of a call reporting one of those arguments to Grand County authorities in Utah revealed a witness who claimed to have seen Laundrie strike Petito. Moab police responded to the reported domestic violence, but determined Petito, not Laundrie, instigated the fight. 

Advocates say highly publicized stories like this one tend to result in more people reaching out for help. 

Oxborrow, who used to work with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, says the Utah Domestic Violence LINK-line almost always received an influx of calls after high-profile cases made the news. 

“When people see things like this, it might be that validation they need to say ‘hey, I’m not alone and this happened to me’…and then they can call,” Sollis says. 

Both Sollis and Oxborrow stress the importance of people knowing help is available to them. This includes partners in abusive relationships, concerned loved ones, and even abusers who want to stop. 


If you or somebody you know are experiencing trouble linked to domestic violence, the following resources are available to you.

Utah Domestic Violence LINKLine
1-800-897-LINK (5465)

If LINKLine advocates are experiencing an increased call volume, calls will be forwarded to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

StrongHearts Native Helpline
1-844-762-8483

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Gabby Petito case brings domestic violence to the forefront