The Missing Women No One Hears About

As of March 27th, in Washington D.C. there are 13 open cases involving missing female teens of color. If you’re surprised by this, join the club! Unless you follow the D.C. police department on Twitter, you are unlikely to have heard a thing about any of them.

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While initial reports showed a sudden spike in Black and Latina women going missing, with many people fearing a sex trafficking ring, the DCPD have said there is no increase in girls going missing, just an increase of awareness. Between 90% and 95% of these cases are resolved, but that does not explain why we do not hear about them in the first place.

JonBennet Ramsey, Natalie Holloway, Karina Vetrano, and others like them are familiar to us all. When young white women and girls from wealthy backgrounds go missing, they make headlines. And this is nothing new, but what about Rilya Wilson, Gladys Keitt, and Marilyn Reynoso?

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Riya was just 4 years old when she was abducted and murdered. Gladys is only one of the missing D.C. girls and is 18, the same age Natalie Holloway was when she went missing. Marilyn was abducted, raped and killed in New York one month before the same thing happened to Karina. The difference between the first group and the second? Riya, Gladys, and Marilyn were all Black or Latina.

This is not a new phenomenon. Late Afro-Latina PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill is said to have originated the phrase “missing white woman syndrome” a term now used by social scientists and researchers to describe the way in which media coverage is immensely biased towards reporting crimes against conventionally attractive, affluent white women.

Admittedly, the police and media cannot publicize every missing person case in the country. Sometimes it is very clear that the missing person has chosen to disappear, that they are safe and well somewhere else, or that the person reporting is mistaken. Yet that still leaves plenty who may have been abducted, pressured into a dangerous lifestyle or met foul play after running away. The media coverage of these cases should be decided upon according to who is most at risk, who police think is in the most immediate danger and not by who is the most blonde and who has the prettiest eyes.

It may be that the numbers of missing women and girls of color have not increased, and it may be that up to 95% are resolved, but what of the 5% that aren’t? Each and every one of those women and girls deserves an equal amount of media coverage no matter how they look, how conventionally pretty they are thought to be or how affluent their family is.

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Black women and girls are going missing and it’s not just in Washington D.C. It’s happening in Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Atlanta and other urban areas around the country. It happens every day and every member of the public should be as concerned about them as they are about the women and girls whose cases are deemed worthy enough to be covered by the media.