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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Opinion

Missing women of color are largely ignored by the mainstream media


A study by a sociologist at Northwestern University showed that not only did missing white women receive more media coverage overall, but also had higher coverage intensity. This means that even when missing women of color do gain media attention, they are given a fraction of the resources and attention that their white counterparts receive. | Fiona Legesse/The Cougar

 

Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, went missing from her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa on July 18. She has yet to be found; the ongoing investigation into her disappearance has garnered significant media attention.

Local and national media outlets have tracked Tibbetts’ story as it unfolds, with CNN.com alone publishing 11 pieces in relation to developments in the case.

Tibbetts is one of tens of thousands of women currently classified as missing in the United States. She is among a fraction of these individuals who have received media coverage of their disappearance.

Missing women like Tibbetts who gain significant media coverage of their disappearance often fit a specific profile: young, white and conventionally attractive, according to research by Sarah Stillman, a Ph.D candidate at Oxford University. 

This creates a racial disparity consistent with the concept of Missing White Woman Syndrome, the idea that white women disproportionately receive the most media attention when they are reported missing.

The mainstream media makes women that fit this narrow profile into front page stories while providing little to no coverage for women of color that are reported missing. Disproportionately dedicating resources and conversation to young, attractive white women who are reported missing, the media portrays certain subgroups of missing women as more worthy of being found than missing women of color.

This discrepancy reveals the unacceptable fact that white female bodies are viewed as more valuable than the bodies of women of color by the mainstream media in America.

 

The sound of collective silence

Research has shown a distinct correlation between a woman’s race and the amount of media coverage that she receives when she is reported missing.

In 2016, Zach Sommers, a sociologist at Northwestern University, released the findings of a study that he conducted regarding the relationship between news coverage of missing persons and race. Using data from 2013 gathered from several news outlets and the FBI, the study sought to definitively conclude whether Missing White Woman Syndrome exists in mainstream media.

The results of the study revealed that Missing White Woman Syndrome abounds in the media, with a two-fold disparity existing in the coverage of missing women.

The study found that missing black women received merely 14.32% of all media representation of missing persons, while white women reported missing received a staggering 32.97%.

Missing white women received more than double the coverage of missing black women, showing a clear lack of concern for what happens to women of color that are reported missing.

The study also uncovered discrepancies in the coverage intensity of the coverage of missing women. It was found that missing black women accounted for only 9.03% of all articles about missing persons while missing white women comprised a whopping 49.74%.

The study showed that not only did missing white women receive more coverage overall, but also had higher coverage intensity. This means that even when missing women of color do gain media attention, they are given a fraction of the resources and attention that their white counterparts receive.

The lack of coverage and coverage intensity on missing women of color in America blatantly exposes the fact that their lives are viewed as disposable.

The dismay from communities of color over the startling lack of representation of their missing women has led them to create their own coverage. Groups such as The Black & Missing Foundation, Inc. (BAM FI) were created with the intention of raising awareness of cases involving missing persons of color.

Organizations like the BAM FI play a critical role in filling the gap left behind by the mainstream media in the coverage of missing women of color. It shows that regardless of race, every case possesses its own tragedy. All cases deserve equal attention and resources to solve the mysteries and bring closure to families.

 

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