Being Grabbed By The Face By Your Partner Is A Warning Sign You Shouldn't Ignore

Katherine Grace
screenshot from Gabby Petito’s Instagram
“He, like, grabbed my face.” Gabby Petito

I’ve watched the full body cam footage released by the Moab Police Department more than once. I felt a need to understand what happened in those interactions. I was hoping to see that all officers involved responded with a clear understanding of domestic violence — how victims often come across in interviews, how perpetrators tend to portray themselves, and how to discern possible levels of threat for the victim.

Camila Domonoske, in a 2017 NPR article titled CDC: Half Of All Female Homicide Victims Are Killed By Intimate Partners, wrote:

More than half of female homicide victims were killed in connection to intimate partner violence — and in 10 percent of those cases, violence shortly before the killing might have provided an opportunity for intervention. … The report also found that black and indigenous women are slain, in general, at significantly higher rates than women of other races.

Further into the piece Domonoske states:

First responders could assess risk factors for violence to “facilitate immediate safety planning and to connect women with other services, such as crisis intervention and counseling, housing, medical and legal advocacy,” the report says.
“We found that approximately one in 10 victims of intimate-partner-violence-related homicide experienced some form of violence in the preceding month,” Petrosky says. “And when we look at it for the non-intimate-partner-violence-related homicides, that was less than 2 percent. So this indicates that there could have been potentially an opportunity for intervention for those women.”

In researching how law enforcement are taught to interview possible domestic violence victims, I found the INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CHIEFS OF POLICE INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE RESPONSE POLICY AND TRAINING CONTENT GUIDELINES, which included the following:

Victim interviews:
Address the victim’s safety and privacy by conducting the victim interview in an area apart from the suspect and witnesses. Obtain information about previous incidents, including frequency and severity.
Ask about any acts of intimidation that may have occurred, during this incident or any previous incidence, that were intended to prevent the victim from calling the police or seeking other assistance.

Discuss intimidation with the victim, including identifying and reporting it. Provide examples of subtle forms of intimidation, such as specific body language or gestures, contact through a third party or social media, or sending unwanted gifts, and a safe way for the victim to contact law enforcement. Ensure the victim is aware that intimidation can come from the suspect or others.

I’ll pause here with the video in question. If you are a victim or survivor of intimate partner violence, please be careful watching this footage:

There’s a lot in this video to digest.

Like, how is no one telling Gabby that if she is afraid of her boyfriend, she can say so and they will help her get out.


These officers all failed this young woman as they have failed too many before her.

When asked if Brian had hit her, Gabby clearly states that he grabbed her roughly by the jaw.

He grabbed you? But did he hit you though?” asked an unnamed male officer.

No. He grabbed my face. He grabbed my jaw right here. He didn’t hit me or anything.”

Then she held her jaw in demonstration and it was clearly not a gentle, caring cupping of her face, but a grip of domination, control and intimation. Like this image below:

It was a grip meant to control and silence.

Officer: “Did he slap your face or what?

Gabby: “No, he grabbed me,” again she holds her jaw, “and he gave me a cut right here. I can feel it.

Officer: “Ok. So, have you been drinking?


Have you been drinking?” is how this unnamed officer responds to learning that Bryan had just grabbed her by the jaw so hard that he’d forced the tender flesh inside her mouth to get cut against her teeth and the first thing out of his mouth is … Have you been drinking?!?

Having someone violently grip your jaw so roughly that your teeth cut into your flesh is violence.


Have you been drinking?” is never the appropriate response when someone tells you this just happened to them.

Perhaps, “Have he ever done anything like that before?” or “Do you feel like he is not always in control of his anger?” would have been more helpful follow up questions.

And, if you’ve been in Gabby’s shoes, you’ll recognize the slight collapsing into herself she does as it dawns on her that no one cares that Brian had scared her and hurt her when he grabbed her by the jaw.

No one was going to help.

She likely begins to question her sanity again: Maybe Brian is right, maybe I am crazy. It’s not like he hit me or anything.

I was more and more distressed as the video wove on and not once did this officer go to Gabby and offer one iota of understanding of how domestic violence victims can take the blame and deflect to protect their abusers — and not just because they have internalized all the times they’ve been told their partner’s anger and outbursts are her fault, but also because victims know damn well the punishment they’ll face later on if they tell but then don’t manage to break free.

Someone who grabs your face intends to control and intimidate.

Will grabbed my jaw. His hand felt huge. He moved me to a corner in the living room. He stood there yelling at me. His grip hurt. I couldn’t talk and I knew if I moved he could break my jaw.

If someone grabs your face, it is domestic violence. And if your partner grabs your throat instead of your face, you are 7–10 times more likely to die at their hand later. — VerbalAbuseJournals

Being physically attacked as she was, this was clearly a dangerous situation for her, a young woman that this same officer latter on, while talking with Bryan, describes as “100lbs soaking wet…”

What Gabby Petito needed to be asked was:

16. Is there anything else that worries you about your safety?

But, no, she was asked if she’d been drinking instead…

This was NOT ok.

Because Gabby deserved to be seen as an individual, not just another ‘crazy’ woman causing her partner undue stress.

And, before I close, I leave you with the reason for my gendered language because, yes, some women are perpetrators of domestic violence. However, More than 98 percent of those homicidal partners were men.” This number speaks for itself.

If you are in a relationship where you feel unsafe, you can contact The National Domestic Violence Helpline by clicking or calling 800.799.SAFE (7233).

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NeuroDivergent Writer. Editor. Survivor.


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