When young women go missing


Photo via Instagram @indigenouspeoplesmovement

There is a disproportionate amount of recognition for women of color in national headlines and prime time news cycles

When 22-year-old Gabrielle Petito went missing while on a cross-country road trip, she made headlines and podcasts all across the country. Shortly thereafter, her remains were found near a campground in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. While her disappearance made headlines, the disappearance of hundreds of Indigenous women are rarely discussed or even reported at all.

According to Wyoming state reports, Indigenous people make up 21 percent of homicides in the state but only 3 percent of the population. Over 700 women have gone missing in Wyoming over the past decade which is a shocking number, particularly because the media has barely covered any of the disappearances.

When missing Indigenous women are reported, journalists tend to write about them using derogatory terms and negative connotations, according to a Sep. 22 New York Times article. When white women go missing, journalists sympathize with their families and write it as a tragedy. Women of all races should receive equal and sympathetic news coverage when disappearances occur. Indigenous people and people of color are rightfully upset that Petito’s disappearance and disappearances of other white women are covered in-depth while the disappearances of their own women are rarely recognized. Any woman who goes missing deserves justice, but 21 percent of Indigenous women remain missing for 30 days or longer and we hear nothing about it.

The questions remain: Why does the media only report when beautiful, young, white women go missing? Why doesn’t the media place emphasis on all women who deserve justice?

There are several explanations for this. According to an article in The Guardian, “In places where girls have gone missing, the population is disproportionately white.” Therefore, the journalists tend to write about the white middle-class women who go missing. To them, it resonates more than Indigenous people going missing, whether they are consciously or subconsciously aware of this. Additionally, white women disappearances tend to generate more interest with the public, which is better for major news organizations.

We preach equality, yet we do not prioritize equality for all Americans. Petito’s case proves that people can utilize the media for good, but it also proves that many people have an inherent racial bias. It is also a class bias – Petito was a middle-class woman who received mass media coverage while lower-class women who go missing do not receive that same coverage.

It’s time that society starts prioritizing serving justice to all women, regardless of race or class. If the media covered cases of missing Indigenous women with the same thoroughness that they covered cases of missing white women, then perhaps more Indigenous women would be found.

It doesn’t matter what race, gender or financial status a person holds. Indigenous women going missing and not receiving the justice they deserve is unquestionably wrong. It truly speaks to the racial inequality that some Americans claim doesn’t exist. However, if more people become aware of this issue, then real change may start to occur.