Media coverage of missing persons cases is quwhite similar

Chloe Smithson, Reporter

When you hear of missing person cases, who do you think of? 

Jayce Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, or Jon Benet Ramsey? Gabi Petito, Laci Peterson, or Kristen Smart maybe? 

Though these were all frightening and serious cases, there are a lot of missing person cases that most of us haven’t heard about. More specifically, people of color. 

In 2020, according to the Black and Missing Foundation, 203,000 people of color were reported missing and their stories received little to no news coverage. 

This problem recently resurfaced when, in early September, white female Gabi Petito went missing. This sparked a lot of interest in the public. Every time I went to the grocery store checkout aisle, I saw new updates posted on the covers of the newspapers and magazines. There were constant news reports on television.

People have come to terms with something that we see all the time in missing person cases: the missing white woman syndrome. Why do missing white women garner more attention than the Black, Latino, or Indigenous people who go missing? 

Experts have their theories. 

One of them is the dominant ideology, a large form of white supremacy that draws viewers into the “relatable” missing people. The stereotypical attractive blonde women who come from privileged backgrounds always seem to get the spotlight. 

Additionally, news outlets gravitate towards the spread of information on missing white women because it gains the attention of their viewers. This stands proven, as in early September after Petito went missing, the hashtag “Gabi Petito” received over 794 million views on social media.  This is an easy target for news channels looking to gain popularity. When they cover stories on missing white women, they gain revenue and views. 

This leaves us with Petito’s case. The case itself was far from unique, and the interest it gained was solely based on what she looked like and who she was.

Take Sarah Butler’s case, for example. Butler was a 20-year-old Black female who, along with 2 other women, was lured via a dating website and brutally murdered in November of 2016 in Montclair, New Jersey. Butler’s sister received a lack of help from authorities and led her own investigation, where she solved the majority of the case on her own. 

This had the criteria necessary to become a high-profile case, though it received little to no news coverage, and Sarah’s family did not get the justice they deserved for their innocent daughter. 

The rate of missing minorities continues to go up but there has never been the news coverage needed for this problem. To take a part in this motion, pay attention to missing person cases that aren’t receiving enough coverage, post on social media, and spread the word to help bring the victims home.