When Toxicity Becomes Lethality (Gabby Petito Story)

Available for Interviews: Dr. Hope Umansky

Dr. Hope Umansky is an American Culture College Professor with a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

Dr. Hope worked forensically in a clinical setting for 3 years treating court-ordered batterers, their victims (few were survivors), and a sexual assault response team, as well as founded the first stalking victims support group in San Diego in 1998. She also worked forensically on a psychiatric emergency team (PET) in San Diego’s most dangerous urban hospital and San Diego’s largest trauma center working with many people on parole, probation, and severe psychiatric illness. 

What Dr. Hope can say in an interview on
Domestic Violence as it pertains to the Gabby Petito story:

    • Shocking that this case has revealed that NOTHING has changed in our awareness of domestic violence and perpetrator terrorists of violence since Nicole Brown Simpson was killed. No American culture or internal police knowledge has changed, so women are still dying at a rate of 84% of all female homicides. These murders are actually FEMICIDES (the name for women partner violence that turns to murder) at the hand of a previous or current partner, love interest, or someone the woman knowingly and willingly let her into her life. 

    • As citizens within the larger American culture, we need to be fluent and literate in the language of partner violence and its progression from toxicity to danger to lethality to help recognize it when the victim is experiencing it. Once the relationship becomes toxic it is almost impossible for the victim to get out because of the dangerous gaslighting and manipulations of the domestic violence offender. 
    • We need to have a trained mental health provider called in to access all domestic violence and partner violence reports. Law enforcement does not have this training. When can women finally stop being scared—especially of the men they welcome into their lives? It is still not safe. It is no longer Take Back the Night (in reference to the international event and non-profit organization with the mission of ending Sexual, Relationship, and Domestic Violence). We need to understand how the function of voice and breath is both metaphorical and literal when understanding the continuum of perpetrator behavior. 

Case Specifics

    • We do not need to know if Laundrie killed Petito, although the pattern as it was crystal clear from the police came from corroborators and witnesses to their last few interactions. 
    • During the police cam, the difference in their emotional affect—Gabby hysterical, he is cold and controlling the narrative—this disconnect of emotions is a very dangerous clue as it can show signs of sociopathy and narcissism.
    • Laundrie is constantly looking around the cops to see Gabby and hear what she is saying as he wants to control the narrative. He lies and says he doesn’t have a phone and then says that he does. Gabby says he takes her phone regularly. This is a very dangerous violation as he sees Gabby as property as perfectly objectified as his object and it isolates her from friends and family and being able to call for help. Another very dangerous sign that toxicity has turned into lethality
    • Outside people said he was hitting her face and not letting her into the van which is cruel since she would be out in the wilderness alone. She said as much that he was going to leave her. 
    • Gabby trying to hysterically make excuses and minimize him grabbing her face is a very dangerous sign, especially as she shows how he grabbed her face to shut her up. Once this is done, research by Kate Manne and others demonstrates that at the time a victim’s face is grabbed, she is now 7x more likely to be strangled and killed by that partner as it is a literal and metaphorical shutting up of the victim so they cannot talk back. 

Domestic Violence Red Flags

    • On a more primal level of strangulation, when the perpetrator’s aggression is in full force and in primitive brain or fight or flight, the face becomes the precursor for strangulation as a way to snuff the literal life out of the perceived threat (the partner who is fighting back could call the police to have offender arrested. And the most dangerous time for women is when they are preparing to leave or have left. Could this be the missing piece as to how Gabby was killed in the heat of the moment (as evidenced by strangulation and him leaving her unburied or uncovered)? It is a degree of unorganized killing typical of a Domestic Violence perpetrator. 
    • Women and men need to know the signs of when toxicity becomes lethality, and this needs to be regular cultural knowledge because the rate of women being killed by partners (The data on male to male partner violence is fairly new and developing, so for ease of use men to women pronouns are being used.)

Conducting treatment with court-ordered batterers and psychiatrically severe patients (often dangerous to self and others and 5150’ing them) provides Dr. Hope with unprecedented insight into the perpetrator’s mind.


Interview: Dr. Hope Umansky

Dr. Hope Umansky, a.k.a. Dr. Hope, is an American Culture College Professor and an author on educational reform, equity, inclusion, social justice & American culture. Her column, Dr. Hope On Point represents the intersection of historical context and popular culture, with an emphasis on the complex human experience.

Hope Umansky, PhD, offers a unique psychology-based perspective on the questions and events that weigh heavy on our hearts and minds.

Jo Allison
Managing Editor
Director of Public Relations
Success In Media, Inc.

Leave a Reply