By Adriana Miranda
“Missing White Woman Syndrome: a term coined by the late PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill, refers to the mainstream media’s seeming fascination with covering missing or endangered white women, and its seeming disinterest in cases involving missing people of color.”
I’m sure we all remember when Gabby Petito went missing earlier this year, and if you don’t I’ll recap it for you: Gabby went missing while on a road trip with her fiancé, he returned home without her. The internet immediately sensationalized her disappearance and turned this woman’s life into news stories and true-crime tiktoks. Now I’m not saying media attention is a bad thing — people should care about missing women. The issue is that when black women, latina women, indigenous women, and other women of color go missing, they don’t get the same amount of media interest, if any at all.
Zach Sommers, a lawyer specializing in race, crime, and media coverage, did an entire study on this phenomenon, and he believes it’s influenced by money. “Sommers speculates that there’s also the economic calculus of news coverage to consider: in skewing this type of coverage toward white women, news outlets might be deciding that missing white women are worth more in terms of eyeballs and ad revenue.”
This means that not only are missing black and brown women’s stories seen as less deserving of coverage, but missing white women’s victimhood is seen as profitable. Even more, sometimes media coverage comes across like true-crime entertainment rather than real genuine care for others’ safety.
Media coverage may not be the end-all-be-all for finding missing people, but only covering stories of missing white women at the very least contributes to a subconscious societal belief that white women are more valuable. It should be concerning to all of us that (1) women in general are more easily seen as victims and (2) white women are seen this way more easily and their victimhood is considered profitable.