Missing White Woman Syndrome: The Gabby Petito Case

posted in: Media Review, Opinion | 0

This art piece shows two women holding the same sign, symbolizing that they are having similar experiences with biased coverage; showcasing the #NoMoreStolenSisters symbol on the Native woman.

In early September, news broke out about Gabrielle “Gabby” Petitio, a missing young woman from Florida. Her disappearance received a lot of media attention from the moment she was reported missing. 

In June of 2021, Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, left Florida to travel the country through the summer. During the last few days of August, Petito’s family reported her missing. On Sept. 21, Petito’s remains were found in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming, where authorities believed she had disappeared. 

Rather than go into more details or repeat the whole story once more, I want to talk about the bias in media coverage of this event. 

The endless coverage of Petito’s story casted a shadow on a substantial problem in the US. According to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Task Force (established in 2019), between the years of 2011 and 2020, there have been over 700 Indigenous people that have gone missing in the same area where Petito was found. Yet, there is little to no coverage of those events. Of those people, 85% were children and 57% were women. The state of Wyoming has 23 counties and there have been missing people reported in 22 out of those 23 counties. 

How often have you heard their stories? They are not the top story in the paper nor are they every other post on Instagram, yet, I have learned more about Petito’s story in just a month compared to the decades of missing peoples cases of the Indigenous community. 

This is the bias of media coverage, known as Missing White Woman Syndrome – a term used by social scientists to point out the disproportionate coverage between missing upper-class white women and missing women of color. Only 2% of the U.S. population are Indigenous people, yet murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women. 

It is important to listen to BIPOC stories and understand the extreme disproportionate biases they deal with on a daily basis. If the news covered missing Indignous peoples just as quickly and deeply as white people, then oppression in the media would decrease.

The Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement created a symbol that stands for all of the missing women whose stories have been silenced by the media and law enforcement. Their symbol, a red hand over the mouth of a person, is commonly seen in activism art, often with the hashtag #NoMoreStolenSisters. 

Every missing person deserves the same amount of coverage and attention to their case. 

A detailed timeline of Petito’s case can be found on ABC News. Learn more about #NoMoreStolenSisters at nativehope.org. — Ashley Meza

Art by Soni Lopez-Chavez (soni_artist) on Instagram.


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