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Media’s Mania for Missing White Women (and the Disregard of Women of Color)


Illustration by Renegade98 of missing and murdered women.


In recent years, the media has come under controversy and scrutiny for its tendency to highlight particular cases, skewing society’s perceptions of the severity and importance of issues. For example, the Ebola outbreak of 2014 dominated headlines and broadcasts. Although the United States largely contained Ebola, the media’s continual barrage of information made Ebola stand in the forefront of the American public’s mind, inciting fear and mass misinformation. By looking at current trends in media coverage, one can approximate what society is likely to prioritize. Additionally, there is a significant disparity in the subjects the media decides to highlight and cases they choose to disregard.



To highlight this disparity, let’s look at the cases of Gabby Petito and Aubrey Dameron. Gabby Petito was a 22-year-old white woman who was a social media influencer and was on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend. She stopped responding to her family’s calls and texts sometime around late August 2021, and when her boyfriend returned to their home without her, many became concerned with where Petito was. Furthermore, before her disappearance Petito and her boyfriend were in a domestic altercation. As such, law enforcement did not spare any time, resources, or hesitation to find Petito and her boyfriend. Her disappearance, discovery of her remains, and manhunt for her boyfriend remained on the forefront of news outlets across the nation all day for weeks.


In contrast, not many have heard about Aubrey Dameron, who has been missing for three years. Dameron was a 25-year-old transgender indigenous woman from the Cherokee nation who was last seen on March 9th, 2019. She had just moved back to Oklahoma to escape domestic violence with her ex-boyfriend and to recover from alcoholism. Her family members grew concerned and reported her missing two days later. However, a search party was not organized until March 24th, two whole weeks after she was reported missing. The delay in search occurred because law enforcement was hesitant to say she was missing due to her “high-risk” lifestyle. Furthermore, resources in the search for Dameron have been limited, media coverage even less, and unfortunately, she still has not been found. In news articles that covered her story, many noted that she was simply a part of the long growing-statistics of missing indigenous women in America. Additionally, some have noted that her substance use might have increased her risk of victimization.



Images of the victims listed below in order of Amber Hagerman, Laci Peterson, Natalee Holloway, Caylee Anthony, and Hannah Graham.


The media’s tendency to hold a double standard in their portrayal of stories is problematic and extends beyond these women’s cases. For example, look at the cases of Amber Hagerman, Laci Peterson, Natalee Holloway, Caylee Anthony, and Hannah Graham. All of them were young girls or women who went missing and their bodies were discovered after extensive state or national searches. They all fit a similar pattern of young white females, conventionally attractive, and from middle-class families. News outlets zealously covered their disappearance and subsequent investigations, engraving their names in the public mind. The public and true crime enthusiasts energetically followed their stories, eagerly awaiting updates. Even cases that have not been solved may continue to be highlighted in the media through commemorations as police ask for new tips and clues.


Illustration by iStock/axel2001


The late Gwen Ifill coined this trend as “Missing White Women Syndrome.” Under this syndrome, the media overrepresents these missing white women cases and highlights their purity or innocence to garner more public sentiment. In contrast, media sources often ignore black and indigenous missing women. For example, although the hashtag MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) was created to highlight the crisis facing Native communities, there are about 248.6 million views. In comparison, hashtags involving Petito’s name collectively reach over 1 billion views. Additionally, even when the cases of women of color are covered, the news outlets tend to focus on criminalizing or blaming them for their disappearances. Ultimately, this syndrome is harmful to white and BIPOC victims. White victims’ stories are tokenized, using their pain and suffering to garner more views. Women of color victims are ignored or blamed and are just another statistic.


Image of a protest that is demanding justice for “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” (MMIW). Source link: Michael Siluk/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


Of course, all victims must receive media coverage and public support to get justice. However, the issue lies in the media’s tendency to focus on their cases while disregarding the cases of non-white women. Victims of all races should receive equal treatment and resources dedicated to them to find out what happened to them and receive justice.


Additional Sources


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