Petito Case Raises Issue of “Missing White Woman’s Syndrome”

“Missing white woman syndrome’’ — a term used to describe the perceived disproportionate attention paid to white females who disappear, as opposed to people of color — was trending on social media Tuesday as hordes of news outlets and local and federal authorities focused on the Petito case.

In the two weeks since Gabby Petito went missing while on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, her story has gained national attention.

Petito’s case has made news headlines and gone viral online, with people everywhere trying to find clues and solve the case themselves. Adding to the intrigue in Petito’s case is the large social media footprint she left behind as she documented her travels cross-country with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie.

Some experts say the nation faces “Missing White Women Syndrome,” which is defined by the heavier media attention White women and girls receive when they go missing compared to anyone outside of those demographics, according to a study published by the Northwestern University School of Law in 2016. The study points out that missing Black people are less likely to garner media attention at the outset than other groups and when they do make the news and they receive a lower intensity of coverage.

Zach Sommers, a criminologist and author of the Northwestern study, told CNN that bias and systemic racism play a role in Missing White Women Syndrome — a term he said was coined by the late TV news anchor Gwen Ifill.

“As a culture we are readily willing to accept stories about White folks as victims as something we should care about,” he said. “When we see a White person who has gone missing, we say that could be my daughter, neighbor or cousin or friend… and they identify with that person and are more likely to read the story than we would if it were a person of color.”


Source: ABC