Missing Women and Racial Bias
Gabby Petito quickly became a widely-known name after her murder. Petito, a travel influencer and vlogger, worked as a pharmacist technician to save money for a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie. Petito and Laundrie left on July 2 to begin their four-month cross-country trip in their van, documenting everything on YouTube and Instagram.
On Aug. 12 an emergency services call was placed regarding the couple as they were seen to be fighting in Utah. A man was seen hitting a woman, later identified as Laundrie hitting Petito. The police spoke to Petito and Laundrie after these reports, but they [the police] ruled the altercation as an emotional distress situation and not domestic violence. The police then had arranged for Laundrie to stay in a hotel for a night, and Petito stay in the couple’s van – to create distance.
After hitchhiking to the Spread Creek camping area, Laundrie returned to Florida on Sept. 1, without Petito. Police, with the help of the media, found Petito’s body on Sept. 19. Petito’s death was ruled a homicide by strangulation, committed by Laundrie.
There are more than 17,000 missing persons cases currently open, with many of them being women of color. In contrast to the large number of missing women of color, the media chooses to publicize the missing persons cases of white women over those of black, Hispanic, Asian and indigenous women at a disproportionate amount. If asked, anyone could name three white women who have been missing, but the same could not be said for women of color.
Some have spoken out that women of color are not being disproportionately underrepresented in the media, and one’s socio-economic background is the reason for media publicity. WYPR’s podcast, Midday, disproves that as Dr. Danielle Slakoff, an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at Sacramento State University, and Zach Sommers, a criminologist, and an attorney with the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, conducted studies showing that socio-economic background made no difference in who was publicized in the media as a missing person.
Women who are white are more likely to be looked for and found. White women are treated in the way children are treated. They are looked after and cared for by people who have no idea who they are. The altercation between Laundrie and Petito was not classified as domestic violence due to Petito stating that she started it, and Laundrie was even placed in a hotel arranged by the police. Petito and Laundrie, both white, were catered to.
Black, Hispanic, Asian and indigenous women remain unfound, with open cases that the police do not care about. At most, those who do publicize about women of color who are missing, are other people of color – mostly women. Race bias permeates every aspect of life, and in this case, it can lead to death. The lack of media coverage on women of color who are missing leads to the belief that no one cares about women of color. The only people who seem to care about missing women of color are their family and friends and perhaps other women of color, but neither media nor our collective memory!