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Missing White Woman Syndrome in 2005

Photo: AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr

LaToyia Figueroa’s name will forever be tied to Natalee Holloway and the term “missing white woman syndrome.” Figueroa, 25, was a Black Hispanic woman from Philadelphia who disappeared on July 18, 2005. She was pregnant with her second child when she was reported missing. Police later found her body in Chester, Pennsylvania after a month of searching and a growing national outcry for more attention to be brought to her case. Her boyfriend, Stephen Poaches, the father of their unborn child, was arrested and found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths Figueroa and her fetus.

Months earlier, on May 30, 2005, Natalee Holloway, 18, went missing after failing to meet her fellow travelers at an airport in Aruba for the return flight to Mountain Brook, Alabama. Holloway’s case brought national attention from major cable news networks, newspapers, and magazines in the US and was covered internationally as well. Every facet of the case, every suspect in the disappearance, and every detail about Holloway was revealed over several weeks of intense news coverage. Holloway’s case remains unsolved and the people surrounding her disappearance have turned Holloway’s case into a cultural product with multiple documentaries and books offering their own theories of how Holloway disappeared.

“If you were to get your news only from television, you’d think the top issue facing our country right now is an 18-year-old girl named Natalee who went missing in Aruba.” - Arianna Huffington

What makes the difference in media coverage salient is the fact that Holloway was a white woman and Figueroa was a woman of color. After Figueroa's disappearance, local advocates and politicians fought for national news coverage for Figueroa's case. City councilman Juan F. Ramos stated, "Certainly, everybody hopes that they find out what happened to Natalee Holloway in Aruba and to all the other missing young women. But for a while there, you had to wonder: why not Latoyia?"

Bloggers and commenters are credited with bringing attention to the racial and gender disparities in the amount of media coverage dedicated to abduction or missing persons cases and describing it as "Missing White Woman Syndrome" (a phrase coined by journalist Gwen Ifill).

Law and Science fellow Zach Sommers empirically tested the premises of Missing White Woman Syndrome and found that Black missings persons are significantly underrepresented in the coverage of news media on the internet with circumstantial evidence supporting the idea that white women that are missing are overrepresented (data on missing persons across gender and race lines are difficult to assess and correct for). Sommers also found that while evidence of missing white women being overrepresented in the media is murky, the intensity of news coverage on white women is certainly greater than missing women of color. Sommers concludes that there is a “hierarchy of victims within the female subgroup… By choosing to disproportionately highlight the experiences of whites and women, [the news sites in the study] are implicitly - or perhaps explicitly - intimating that the cases of those individuals matter more.”

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1 commentaire

Dudley Sharp
24 févr. 2022

Tragic that all such cases do not get equal treatment.

Sadly, they can't. Why?

The sheer volume of missing and unidentified person cases poses one of the greatest challenges to agencies tasked with resolving these important cases.

Over 600,000 individuals go missing in the United States every year.[1] Fortunately, many missing children and adults are quickly found, alive and well. However, tens of thousands of individuals remain missing for more than one year – what many agencies consider “cold cases”.

It is estimated that 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year, with approximately 1,000 of those bodies remaining unidentified after one year.[2]

At any given time, it is estimated that 2,000 serial murderers are active, within the US.

1,2 Ho…

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