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The Effect of Missing White Women

In light of the heartbreaking case of Gabby Petito, I urged to research other current missing persons cases. While many came to light, one that stood out was Jelani Day.

Jelani Day, an Illinois graduate student and aspiring doctor, disappeared. After police found his car, they appeared to stop looking for him.

Jelani Day went missing just one day before Gabby; however, he and his family have received almost no media attention and are still struggling to get the FBI to help them.

Anomalies like this are not uncommon and it’s commonly referred to as missing white woman syndrome. Missing white woman syndrome is a term coined by news anchor Gwen Ifill to highlight the media's fascination with missing white women.

The internet became more than a little invested in the Gabby Petito case, according to Daily Dot, internet sleuths across TikTok and Instagram became obsessed. While many people claimed the coverage was positive and could lead to finding her, some people criticized the amount of coverage received stating it showed a glaring racial imbalance.

The media is constantly under pressure to deliver the most pressing news, missing persons usually make headlines. However, NPR sociologist, Zach Sommers, analysed that white women are far more likely to be the subject of news headlines stating “…the coverage of missing white women was different in intensity — outlets were more likely to repeatedly report on particular stories of missing white women…”

Children of color, especially black and indigenous children go missing at much higher rates than white kids but are given significantly less media attention. A 2015 study found that black children make up around 35% of missing children cases but are only mentioned 7% of the time in media coverage (MSNBC).

The disappearances of young girls like Elizabeth Smart and Laci Peterson dominated news cycles where the disappearance of missing and murdered indigenous people is rarely addressed.

In Wyoming, where Petito went missing, at least 710 indigenous people have disappeared in the last 10 years, 466 of those were women. However, a study by the University of Wyoming’s Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center found that only 18% of indigenous women who were reported missing received media coverage.

Asia Ewart said that the media bias extends to the LGBTQ community. While a white transgender woman will experience less media attention than a cis-white person, a transgender women of color will experience very little to no media coverage during a tragedy. An example of this is Leelah Alcorn, a white transgender teen who’s suicide led to the petition to outlaw conversion therapy. Comparatively, Blake Brockington: a black, transgender, teen, committed suicide and received almost no media acknowledgement.

According to An Injustice magazine, Equal media coverage of crime victims may help, but it will not end inequalities surrounding how victims of crime are treated. Appropriate research and funding needs to be provided in order for people of color to receive the efforts they deserve. Resources such as The Black & Missing Foundation, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA, and The Vanished podcast are all dedicated to helping combat disparities as well.


Brooke Decker

Mountain View High School


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