Missing white woman syndrome

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Missing White Woman Syndrome (MWWS) is a racist term for the disproportionately greater degree of coverage in television, radio, and print news reporting of a missing person case involving a young, attractive, middle or upper middle class white woman, compared with cases concerning a missing male, or missing persons of other races or classes.[1][2][3] The essential features of a missing person said to give rise to Missing White Woman Syndrome are sex,[4] race or ethnicity, social class, (relative) prettiness, and age. These features are said to provoke discrimination in the reporting as news of the disappearance of a young white woman, and so to increase public interest in her disappearance.


[edit] Missing Persons Statistics (U.S.)

The stereotypical kidnapping or abduction by a stranger is the cause of only a small fraction of the large figure of people reported missing. U.S. government research demonstrates that the victims of non-family abductions are at the highest risk of injury, sexual assault, or death. The majority of these victims are, in fact, female white juveniles.

Some 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day, including both adults and children. But only a small proportion of those are stereotypical abductions or kidnappings by a stranger. For example, the federal government counted 840,279 missing persons cases in 2001. All but about 50,000 were juveniles, classified as anyone younger than 18. About half of the roughly 800,000 missing juvenile cases in 2001 involved runaways, and another 200,000 were classified as family abductions related to domestic or custody disputes.

Only about 100 missing-child reports each year fit the profile of a stereotypical abduction by a stranger or vague acquaintance. Two-thirds of those victims are ages 12 to 17, and among those eight out of 10 are white females, according to a Justice Department study. Nearly 90 percent of the abductors are men, and they sexually assault their victims in half of the cases.

To further complicate categorization of cases, the FBI designates some missing-person incidents—both adult and juvenile—that seem most dire as "endangered" or "involuntary."

[Kym] Pasqualini [National Center for Missing Adults President] said the media tends to focus on "damsels in distress"—typically, affluent young white women and teenagers. The media's dilemma is that government research shows that victims of nonfamily abductions and stereotypical kidnappings are most at risk of injury, sexual assault or death. "Damsel" cases may be the exception, but they often are the most urgent. [5]

[edit] Missing People (National Missing Persons Helpline) report

In Britain, the organization known as "Missing People", a charity formerly called the National Missing Persons Helpline has drawn attention to its own view of the degree to which the news media devote attention to vulnerable missing persons, claiming that despite its efforts to generate news coverage for all missing persons cases, the news media themselves will cover only those cases that fit their publications.

Missing People claims that the cases which generate greatest publicity are those where missing persons are white, middle-class, female and from stable two-parent families, and where there is no indication that such a missing person ran away from home. Two cases are given as contrasting examples: the murder of Hannah Williams and the murder of Danielle Jones.

Although in each case the victim was a white female teenager, there was more coverage of the case of Jones than that of Williams. It is suggested that this is because Jones fulfilled the criteria of being a model middle-class schoolgirl, whilst Williams, a girl with a working-class background whose parents were estranged and who had a stud in her nose, did not.[6]

Jewkes[7] agrees, asserting that the likelihood of the UK national news media lending their weight to the search for a missing person, whether foul play is suspected or not, depends on a collection of interrelated factors: whether the person is young, female, white, middle-class, and conventionally attractive.

A working-class boy or an older woman is less likely to receive news coverage. Even in cases where foul play is suspected, if the victim is male, is of Afro-Caribbean or Asian descent, is a prostitute, has drug problems, is a persistent runaway, or has been in foster care, reporters are said to decide that their readership is less likely to relate to or empathize with the victim, and they reduce their coverage accordingly.

In addition to the cases chosen as examples of their theory by Missing People, Jewkes cites the murder of Amanda Dowler, the murder of Sarah Payne, and the Soham murders as examples of "eminently newsworthy stories" about attractive girls from "respectable" middle-class families and backgrounds whose parents used the news media effectively. She claims, controversially, that in contrast, the street murder of Damilola Taylor (not in fact a case of a missing person) initially received little news coverage, with reports initially concentrating upon street crime levels and community policing, and largely ignoring the victim.

Even when the victim's father flew into the UK from Nigeria to make press statements and television appearances, the level of public outcry did not reach, Jewkes asserts (in her words) "the near hysterical outpourings of anger and sadness that accompanied the deaths of Sarah, Milly, Holly, and Jessica".[7]

The National Center for Missing Adults has also commented on the phenomenon by saying "Unless it's a pretty girl aged 20 to 35, the media exposure is just not there."[8]

[edit] Claimed instances of MWWS

The following missing person cases have been used as examples of what has been claimed to be Missing White Woman Syndrome:

[edit] United Kingdom

  • Lucie Blackman[9] (July 21, 2000) — A hostess in the Roppongi area of Tokyo who went missing. She was later found murdered in a shallow grave having been drugged and raped beforehand. Suspect was found not guilty. The case gained criticism from Japanese Diet members at the time due to non-white hostesses meeting tragic fates in Japan on a regular basis, but her case becoming worldwide news when it happened.
  • Madeleine McCann[10] (May 3, 2007)

[edit] United States of America

[edit] Examples of possible bias in missing person cases

Critics contend that the following examples of missing people received disproportionately little coverage compared with MWWS cases:

  • Megan Williams — a 20-year-old black woman from West Virginia who was kidnapped, raped and tortured in a racist attack by six white residents from Logan County, three of whom are women.
  • April Gregory (May 24, 1996) — 19 year old black college student at Syracuse University. She disappeared one day before Kristin Smart, a white female student at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. She was included in an episode of NBC's Unsolved Mysteries with Smart due to the closeness of their disappearances. Otherwise, she received no additional coverage nationally. Her remains were discovered in November, 1997 and her boyfriend, Terrance Evans, confessed to her murder.[citation needed]
  • Shelton Sanders (June 19, 2001) — 25-year-old male, black college student. According to MSNBC, "Sanders’ case received scant notice outside his small hometown of Rembert, S.C., even though he was a high-achieving student at the University of South Carolina who worked as a technician in the Department of Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Science, and despite his father's prominence as a county magistrate. Meanwhile, the disappearance of a white, female USC student with a similar academic record, Dail Dinwiddie, has continued to receive national attention more than a dozen years after she vanished in 1992." Although no body has yet been found, police have gathered more evidence and have charged a suspect in his murder.[11][20][21]
  • Romona Moore (April 25, 2003) — a 21-year-old black female college student from New York City who was reported missing and was later found raped, tortured and murdered. Troy Hendrix and Kayson Pearson were sentenced to life in prison without parole for Moore's death. Moore's family had trouble persuading the New York City Police Department to actively pursue the case, while two months earlier the NYPD aggressively investigated the disappearance of Svetlana Aronov, who was white. The family is currently bringing a lawsuit against the NYPD, claiming a "practice of not making a prompt investigation of missing-persons claims of African-Americans, while making a prompt investigation for white individuals." [22]
  • Tamika Huston (May 27, 2004) — a 24-year-old black woman who went missing from her Spartanburg, South Carolina home. Described as "bright and beautiful,"[23] Huston's remains were found more than a year later in a nearby town, and her ex-boyfriend was convicted of her murder in 2006. Following her disappearance, Huston's relatives tried in vain to interest the national news media in her case; what little national coverage it received often focused on the relative lack of coverage Huston's story was receiving.[12]
  • Stepha Henry, a 22-year-old black woman who disappeared while on vacation in Florida.[8]
  • Latoyia Figueroa (July 18, 2005) — a 25-year-old woman of African and Hispanic descent who was reported as missing and later found strangled to death. Figueroa, who was five months pregnant at the time, was reported missing after she failed to show up to work. Police arrested Stephen Poaches, the father of her unborn child more than a month after she was reported missing. On October 17, 2006, Poaches was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Figueroa and her unborn child. Figueroa's case is especially relevant because it unfolded at the same time as Natalee Holloway's, and cable news channels, such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel, neglected to cover Figueroa's with the same intensity.[citation needed]
  • 100+ missing women in Vancouver, Edmonton, and environs. Critics charge that the authorities have been slow in investigating because many of the missing are First Nations aboriginal women, drug users, or sex-trade workers. Media attention has grown recently due to the investigation and trial of Robert Pickton, charged with the murders of 27 women and believed to be responsible for more.[24][25][26][27]
  • Shatoya Currie January 9, 1997 - a nine-year-old girl who was raped, strangled, poisoned and left for dead in the Cabrini-Green housing complex where she lived, two weeks after the JonBenet Ramsey murder. Her story went all but unreported in the national press until picked up by Marv Dyson of black-owned WGCI-FM. Subsequent publicity focused on the contrast between Ms. Currie's story and that of Ms. Ramsey. Cook County Public Guardian Pat Murphy stated, among other things, that "we expect (underclass) kids to get killed" but that "if it's a blond-haired, blue-eyed kid, they all go crazy."[28][29][30][31]

[edit] MWWS in Iraq War

Critics have also pointed to media bias in the example of Jessica Lynch versus the coverage of Shoshana Johnson and Lori Piestewa. All three were ambushed in the same attack during the Iraq War on March 23, 2003, but Piestewa and Johnson received less coverage than Lynch.

Media critics suggest that Lynch's story was promoted because Lynch was a more palatable and identifiable figure to promote: a young, blonde white woman. Johnson, on the other hand, was a black woman and a single mother.[32]

Piestewa, also a single mother, was a Native American from an impoverished background.[33] Lynch criticized this disproportionate coverage focusing only on her, stating in a congressional testimony before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary. People like Lori Piestewa and First Sergeant Dowdy who picked up fellow soldiers in harm's way. Or people like Patrick Miller and Sergeant Donald Walters who actually fought until the very end. The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate tales.[34]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Diagnosing 'Missing White Woman Syndrome' Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent, March 14, 2006, 'phrase invoked by Sheri Parks, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park'
  2. ^ Eugene Robinson (June 10, 2005). "(White) Women We Love". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/09/AR2005060901729.html. "'choosing only young, white, middle-class women for the full damsel treatment'" 
  3. ^ Kristal Brent Zook (July, 2005). "Have you seen her? While the families of the missing struggle to bring national attention to their lost loved ones, they sift through the clues and pray for a miracle". Essence. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1264/is_3_36/ai_n14730176. "'"But missing Black women aren't featured as much", says Howard.'" 
  4. ^ Brian Cathcart (April 9, 2007). "The naming of Faye Turney". New Statesman. http://www.newstatesman.com/200704090014. ""They recognised immediately that a woman in uniform is a much more powerful propaganda weapon than a man", wrote Parkin" 
  5. ^ America's Missing David Krajicek, crime writer, newspaper columnist, author and former journalism professor,
  6. ^ Fiona Brookman (2005). Understanding Homicide. Sage Publications. p. 257. ISBN 0761947558. 
  7. ^ a b Yvonne Jewkes (2004). Media and Crime. Sage Publications Inc. pp. 52–53. ISBN 0761947655. 
  8. ^ a b c Part 1: Missing People Face Disparity in Media Coverage
  9. ^ "Death of a Hostess"
  10. ^ "Den försvunna vita flickan-syndromet". svd.se. 2007-06-04. http://www.svd.se/nyheter/inrikes/artikel_234307.svd. Retrieved on 2009-02-02. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f “If you’re missing, it helps to be young, white and female”, MSNBC, July 23, 2004
  12. ^ a b c d e “Spotlight skips cases of missing minorities”, USA Today, 2005
  13. ^ “House panel passes 'Dru's Law' in sex offender bill”, USA Today, 2005
  14. ^ "Aruba Investigation Into Disappearance of American Teen Natalee Holloway Is Not Over". FOXNews.com. 2007-12-19. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,317293,00.html. Retrieved on 2008-11-06. 
  15. ^ “Race Bias in Media Coverage of Missing Women?; Cheryl Hines Dishes on New Show”, CNN, transcript, aired March 17, 2006
  16. ^ “Remembering Michelle”, CNN, blog entry recaps In Session anchor Jami Floyd's commentary at opening of In Session's coverage of Gardner-Quinn murder trial, aired July 10, 2008
  17. ^ "City of Reno: Brianna Denison Investigation", "City of Reno", 2008
  18. ^ Tara Murtha. "The Mysterious Case of Hannah Upp". Philadelphia Weekly. http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/?inc=article&id=611&x=the-mysterious-case-of-hannah-upp&_c=news--random-act. Retrieved on 2008-11-06. 
  19. ^ Marx, Rebecca Flint; Vytenis Didziulis (February 27, 2009). "A Life, Interrupted". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/nyregion/thecity/01miss.html. Retrieved on 2009-03-01. 
  20. ^ "Arrest made in S.C. man's disappearance: 25-year-old student missing since June 2001", MSNBC, October 7, 2005
  21. ^ "Man Charged with Murder in Cold Case", WLTX, October 6, 2005
  22. ^ " NYPD Inaction Over a Missing Black Woman Found Dead Sparks a Historic Racial-Bias Lawsuit, Village Voice, May 6, 2008
  23. ^ Mankiewicz, Josh. "Why do we care about Natalee, Laci, Jennifer?" Dateline NBC, August 5, 2005
  24. ^ "The missing women of Vancouver", CBC, January 19, 2007
  25. ^ "Edmonton's murdered women", CBC, January 4, 2007
  26. ^ "Aboriginal Women Many Missing - Many Murdered", Turtle Island Native Network
  27. ^ "Missing people"
  28. ^ Grace, Julie, "Belated Outrage for Girl X". Time, Feb. 24, 1997, webpage found 2009-04.07.
  29. ^ Jenks, Chris, Childhood, Critical Concepts in Sociology (Routledge, 2005), p. 205.
  30. ^ Ms. Currie's real name was given in Patricia Johnson-Gordon, "Girl X Reveals Tragic History", web article found 2009-04-07.
  31. ^ "Toya Currie Is My Name", Chicago Sun-Times, February 10, 2002.
  32. ^ "A case of race? One POW acclaimed, another ignored". Seattle Times. November 09, 2003. http://web.archive.org/web/20041206230652/http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2001786800_shoshana09.html. 
  33. ^ Osha Gray Davidson (May 27, 2004). "The Forgotten Soldier" (HTML). Rolling Stone Magazine ALT mirror article. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/6085435/the_forgotten_soldier/. Retrieved on 2007-07-31. 
  34. ^ "Testimony of Jessica Lynch". Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20070424110022.pdf. Retrieved on 2009-02-02. 

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