Of all of the people that go missing each year, a sad fact is that they aren’t all treated the same by the media, law enforcement, and even local civilians.
People of all age, race, gender and religion go missing each year, but out of each demographic, one group stands clear, and gets far, far more attention than others.
That is white women. It ties in with something that is known as “missing white woman syndrome”. But why is this the case, and why are men and BAME women ignored largely?
Over-representation of white women
As mentioned, huge numbers of people go missing each year. As a result, not every disappearance will get the same focus given to it.
But the disappearance of a white woman typically attracts a disproportionate interest, and those involving men, or those from ethnic minorities, usually receives limited coverage.
American academic Charlton McIlwain has spoken on the subject, and stated that white women have a “privileged role as violent crime victims in news media reporting”.
The FBI currently has over 20,000 active files on missing adults and children, but we hear about very, very few of these disappearances.
But the ones that we do hear about are typically white women, especially those in the middle-upper class. But why is this?
Why are white women given more coverage?
A few years ago, Tom Rosenstiel, who served as a Director at the Project for Excellence in Journalism said that “blonde white chicks who go missing get covered”, before stating that “poor, black, Hispanic or other people of colour” didn’t get coverage.
He went on to say that if a person was attractive, that this would greatly increase their exposure in the media. Women are typically seen as more “attractive” than men in the media.
There are also some suggestions that there are stereotypes surrounding the disappearances of men or ethnic minorities.
For instance, some may just say when a man goes missing that it must be crime related, and therefore it does not merit much interest.
Or when someone from an ethnic minority disappears, it could be suggested that their disappearance was drug-related. In actual fact, in both cases, these would represent a small minority of the actual disappearances.
We have previously discussed how the media has a big influence on the reporting of disappearances. As we wrote then, cases involving women tend to attract more interest, and ultimately, media companies are businesses that want to make money.
The importance of middle-class
There have also been cases where there have been disparities in interest between white women that have disappeared at similar times.
A well-known case of this concerns two girls that tragically died in the United Kingdom in 2001 – Hannah Williams and Danielle Jones.
Hannah Williams was a 14-year old girl that came from a working-class family, while Danielle Jones was a 15-year old girl that came from a middle-class background. The girls came from Kent and Essex respectively – two counties near to one another on the east of England.
The disappearances coincided with one another. Williams was the first to go missing, in April 2001 – having never returned from a shopping trip.
Danielle Jones meanwhile went missing in June 2001 – after not being seen after leaving her house to walk to the nearby bus stop.
The media intensely focused on Jones’ disappearance, while Williams’ disappearance was largely reduced to an non-newsworthy event.
After some time, both were presumed dead. When a body was found in March 2002, it was assumed that it was the cadaver of Jones. In actual fact, it was Williams’ body.
Jones’ body was unfortunately never located, with her Uncle convicted of her murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Williams was murdered by a convicted sex offender, who was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Both were harrowing cases, but offered a classic example of how certain aspects of disappearances, such as the class, race and gender of a disappearance, are crucial to how much the case will be investigated and covered in the media.
Ultimately, there is no doubt that the disappearance of white women attracts far more interest, and seems to even be investigated more, than disappearances involving men and those from ethnic minorities.
Such occurrences are unfortunate and counter-productive, though seeing the disparity vanishing any time soon is sadly unlikely.
This article touches on the issue of reportage discrepancies regarding social class but does not mention anything about gender discrepancies. The ratio of missing person is 60% men vs 40% women yet as a group men are rarely discussed. It seems that the media’s attitude toward men can be summed up with this simple phrase: “oh well, better him than me”.