Opinion: Gabby Petito’s Disappearance Puts MMIW Crisis in Perspective

Opinion: Gabby Petito’s Disappearance Puts MMIW Crisis in Perspective
This combo of photos provided by FBI Denver via @FBIDenver shows missing person Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito. Petito, 22, vanished while on a cross-country trip in a converted camper van with her boyfriend. Authorities say a body discovered Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Wyoming, is believed to be Petito. (Courtesy of FBI Denver via AP)

The disappearance of Gabby Petito on September 11, 2021, in Wyoming, garnered mass media coverage and unwavering support like I’ve never seen.

The fact is, according to U.S. Department of Justice, 710 indigenous women have vanished in Wyoming within the last ten years and none have gotten mass media coverage, local support, constant FBI presence, or victims advocates such as John Walsh speaking out.

Let me be clear: In no way do my opinions mean to diminish Gabby Petito’s death and her family's suffering, but my heart breaks for every indigenous woman that deserved the same level of commitment from authorities. I simply ask, where is the justice for all the indigenous women that have gone missing?

Indigenous women are generally either hyper-sexualized or completely ignored and existing in the middle has proven to be dangerous. Women are reduced to mere hashtags on social media when we disappear and our families are left heartbroken without closure. Families are not given the support or opportunities to seek help from media outlets or victims advocates. Furthermore, government data and statistics documentation rates of missing and murdered indigenous women is skewed and many women are misclassified which means the number of missing indigenous women is higher. U.S. attorneys often decline 70% of the cases due to lack of evidence and many indigenous women are never found.The issue is complicated and the perception from authorities is that missing and murdered indigenous women is a reservation issue but many of the assaults occur in nearby communities which leaves families in limbo dealing with jurisdiction problems.

In 2019, more than 5,590 indigenous women were reported missing; however, federal agencies collecting data often misclassify indigenous women as white or Hispanic. In 2016, the Department of Justice logged 116 cases however there were 5,712 reports of missing indigenous women across the U.S. According to the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the median age of victims is 29, 1/3 of indigenous women are assaulted in their lifetime 96% of the assaults were perpetrated by non-indigenous men, indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murdered and sexually assaulted than any other ethnic group and sadly, 95% of cases do not receive media coverage. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System states 62% of cases are not included in the official missing persons database.

According to Secretary Deb Haaland, missing and murdered indigenous people is a crisis that requires more focus and effort to unravel the threads that contribute to the alarming rates of cases. The fact is, indigenous women deserve to be protected and deserve justice and for too long, the crisis has been ignored. The Gabby Petito case just highlighted the obvious disparity in how women are seen in society—some are worth saving while others are just forgotten.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement arose in part to highlight the disproportionate crimes. They have organized marches, meetings, afforded training for the police, and built a database in an attempt to correct blatant misinformation.

Missing indigenous women simply deserve to be brought home.

About Jeanette Centeno

Jeanette Centeno (Taíno) is a nurse with 18 years of experience, ranging from Spinal Cord Injury patients to case management. She is committed to advocating for adequate healthcare and proper intervention for all people. Centeno currently works at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, one of the leading acute care hospitals in treating Spinal Cord Injury.

11 Comments on “Opinion: Gabby Petito’s Disappearance Puts MMIW Crisis in Perspective”

  • Avatar for Janet



    I think the media has been highlighting this incident because they were hoping people would get excited and concentrate on what happened to her and then not pay much attention to all the failures of the Obiden administration, raising taxes, border crisis, I think there will be an economic collapse, all the officials and the media just out right lying to everyone, the horrible withdraw from Afghanistan, just to name a few. Have they had even one success?! I haven’t heard of any.

    What happened to Gabby was just at the right time for the media to latch on to some event to talk about in the news, however, I haven’t heard of a lot of people actually getting especially interested it. The news media is trying to make it seem more important than it really is. Also, the FBI is corrupt anyway, so don’t trust them!! They aren’t really working that hard to figure out what happened. They might even be trying to draw this out for as long as they can.

  • Avatar for Gregory Davies

    Gregory Davies


    This is so sad, surely the government should be putting pressure on the police or FBI to do more in finding these young women.

  • Avatar for Mary



    To me, this is so wrong. Everyone missing has the right to be looked for. Someone needs to be their voice, and to not acknowledge them is so heartless. I pray someone will take up the Mantle for them.

  • Avatar for Sylvia



    Hi…it was hard not to see the “news” people and the stories being said about Gabby P…….the thing I locked into was the “abuse” in this womens life….there r men out there that r very good at manipulating women and unfortunately it almost always ends up like this story…I also viewed the “ policemen” in Utah, that seemed to side with the perpetrator and this story could have ended better if they had done the right thing…there r so many what if’s….to me this is the stuff that many women have or are going thru, no matter the color….so sad 😔

  • Avatar for Kathleen King

    Kathleen King


    Blonde, “pretty” as most males are conditioned to think, and hyped as a “poor me” abused victim. She probably was at least some of those things, but you are correct there are others — not blonde, not conventionally “pretty” perhaps however beautiful in their own way, and doing their best to survive (often on their own not linked to a wealthy white male) — every bit as worthy of attention and justice. ALL women deserve support, and all WOMEN should insist that their sisters receive it. ROAR, women, and demand the law and society RESPECT WOMEN.

  • Avatar for Don Bancroft

    Don Bancroft


    She was a vlogger and had many followers. Plus she was pretty and pretty always gets attention.

  • Avatar for LINDA BASS



    Shows how divided we are STILL!

  • Avatar for Jeffrey



    I find it difficult to understand how Gabby Petito reporting of missing was able to reach national headlines and others who go missing you do not hear about. Is it the family that reaches out to the media or the responding police agency. Who reaches out to these groups that conduct the searches.

    • Avatar for Jeanette Centeno

      Jeanette Centeno


      Her father made it a point to contact news outlets and get her name/image out to the public. Local news outlets, national, then global news became involved.

      • Avatar for Kathleen King

        Kathleen King


        Indeed he did — but we must all hope that the male in question is actually the guilty party as he has been convicted in absentia. How many indigenous males have faced a similar fate without a trial.

  • Avatar for Deborah Bracey

    Deborah Bracey


    I don’t understand, we are all Gods children!😥 I also don’t understand how the media picks one families misfortune over another. How do the media pick which case to sensationalize. I will continue to pray for the one race of Gods people, who deserve so much more…..God bless!!

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