Missing white woman syndrome: Wikis


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Missing white woman syndrome (MWWS) is a vernacular term for the alleged disproportionately greater degree of coverage in television, radio, and print news reporting of a misfortune, most often a missing person case, involving a young, attractive white woman, compared with cases concerning a missing male, or missing persons of other races or classes.[1][2][3] The essential features of a missing person said to give rise to Missing White Woman Syndrome are sex,[4] race or ethnicity, (relative) beauty, and age.


Missing Persons Statistics (U.S.)

The stereotypical kidnapping or abduction by a stranger is the cause of only a small fraction of the large figure of people reported missing.[5] U.S. government research demonstrates that the victims of non-family abductions are at the highest risk of injury, sexual assault, or death. The majority of these victims are, in fact, female white juveniles:

Some 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day, including both adults and children. But only a small proportion of those are stereotypical abductions or kidnappings by a stranger. For example, the federal government counted 840,279 missing persons cases in 2001. All but about 50,000 were juveniles, classified as anyone younger than 18. About half of the roughly 800,000 missing juvenile cases in 2001 involved runaways, and another 200,000 were classified as family abductions related to domestic or custody disputes. Only about 100 missing-child reports each year fit the profile of a stereotypical abduction by a stranger or vague acquaintance. Two-thirds of those victims are ages 12 to 17, and among those eight out of 10 are white females, according to a Justice Department study. Nearly 90 percent of the abductors are men, and they sexually assault their victims in half of the cases. To further complicate categorization of cases, the FBI designates some missing-person incidents—both adult and juvenile—that seem most dire as "endangered" or "involuntary." Kim Pasqualini National Center for Missing Adults President said the media tends to focus on "damsels in distress" — typically, affluent young white women and teenagers. The media's dilemma is that government research shows that victims of non family abductions and stereotypical kidnappings are most at risk of injury, sexual assault or death. "Damsel" cases may be the exception, but they often are the most urgent. [6]

Missing People (National Missing Persons Helpline) report

In Britain, the organization known as "Missing People", a charity formerly called the National Missing Persons Helpline has drawn attention to its own view of the degree to which the news media devote attention to vulnerable missing persons, claiming that despite its efforts to generate news coverage for all missing persons cases, the news media themselves will cover only those cases that fit their publications.

Missing People claims that the cases which generate greatest publicity are those where missing persons are white, middle-class, female and from stable two-parent families, and where there is no indication that such a missing person ran away from home. Two cases are given as contrasting examples: the murder of Hannah Williams and the murder of Danielle Jones.

Although in each case the victim was a white female teenager, there was more coverage of the case of Jones than that of Williams. It is suggested that this is because Jones fulfilled the criteria of being a model middle-class schoolgirl, whilst Williams, a girl with a working-class background whose parents were estranged and who had a stud in her nose, did not.[7]

Jewkes[8] agrees, asserting that the likelihood of the UK national news media lending their weight to the search for a missing person, whether foul play is suspected or not, depends on a collection of interrelated factors: whether the person is young, female, white, middle-class, and conventionally attractive.

A working-class boy or an older woman is less likely to receive news coverage. Even in cases where foul play is suspected, if the victim is male, is of Afro-Caribbean or Asian descent, is a prostitute, has drug problems, is a persistent runaway, or has been in foster care, reporters are said to decide that their readership is less likely to relate to or empathize with the victim, and they reduce their coverage accordingly.

In addition to the cases chosen as examples of their theory by Missing People, Jewkes cites the murder of Amanda Dowler, the murder of Sarah Payne, and the Soham murders as examples of "eminently newsworthy stories" about attractive girls from "respectable" middle-class families and backgrounds whose parents used the news media effectively. She claims, controversially, that in contrast, the street murder of Damilola Taylor (not in fact a case of a missing person) initially received little news coverage, with reports initially concentrating upon street crime levels and community policing, and largely ignoring the victim.

Even when the victim's father flew into the UK from Nigeria to make press statements and television appearances, the level of public outcry did not reach, Jewkes asserts "the near hysterical outpourings of anger and sadness that accompanied the deaths of Sarah, Milly, Holly, and Jessica".[8]

The National Center for Missing Adults has also commented on the phenomenon by saying "Unless it's a pretty girl aged 20 to 35, the media exposure is just not there."[9]

Claimed instances

The following missing person cases have been cited as examples of perceived Missing White Woman Syndrome:



  • Britt Lapthorne - 21-year-old backpacker missing (later found dead) in Croatia[10]. Her memorial service was aired live on Australian radio, and Senator Steve Fielding criticized the role of the Croatian police (and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) liaison) in the senate.

United Kingdom


  • Lucie Blackman[14] (July 21, 2000) — A hostess in the Roppongi area of Tokyo who went missing. Her decomposed body was discovered later, widely suspected to have died from a reaction from date rape drug. But due to the state of decomposition, this fact could not be established scientifically. The suspect was found not guilty but was charged and found guilty of separate case of manslaughter resulting from attempted rape with drug.

United States of America

  • Polly Klaas[15] (October 1, 1993) — found murdered; murderer convicted.
  • Chandra Levy[15] (May 1, 2001) — missing for several months; decomposed body found. The death of a young Asian woman, Joyce Chiang, who was alleged to have been killed by the same man in the same area, was largely ignored.
  • Elizabeth Smart[16] (June 5, 2002) — found alive; to be determined whether kidnapper will be found incompetent to stand trial.
  • Laci Peterson[16] (December 23, 2002) — found murdered; murderer convicted; prompted Laci and Conner's law.
  • Dru Sjodin[15] (November 22, 2003) — found murdered; murderer convicted; prompted Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Registry.[17]
  • Maura Murray[18] (February 9, 2004) — University of Massachusetts Amherst nursing student vanished after a one-car accident on a rural NH road.
  • Brooke Wilberger[15] (May 24, 2004) — abducted, murderer revealed location of body and convicted.
  • Lori Hacking[9] (July 19, 2004) -- went missing in July, 2004. Her husband Mark maintained that she had gone for a jog and never returned. It eventually came out that he had murdered her after her discovery that he had lied about graduating from college and being accepted to a highly competitive medical school; her body was found months later in a garbage dump. He was convicted.
  • Jennifer Wilbanks[16] (April 26, 2005) — “The Runaway Bride.” Went out for a jog and did not return; there was much media speculation that her fiancé had killed her. Found she had staged her own kidnapping when she was discovered alive several days later and admitted what she had done.
  • Natalee Holloway[16] (May 30, 2005) — still missing and presumed dead, last known location in Aruba, investigation closed[19] then reopened on February 1, 2008.
  • Taylor Behl[20] (September 5, 2005) — 17-year-old Virginia Commonwealth University freshman disappeared and was later found dead; murderer convicted.
  • Michelle Gardner-Quinn [21] (October 7, 2006) — 21-year-old undergraduate at the University of Vermont who disappeared and was later found dead; murderer convicted.
  • Jessie Marie Davis[9] (June 15, 2007) — reported missing and later found murdered; murderer convicted.
  • Brianna Denison[22] (January 20, 2008) — reported missing and found murdered nearly a month later; suspect charged.
  • Caylee Anthony[23] (July, 2008)
  • Nancy Cooper[24] (July 12, 2008) — 34-year-old mother of two from Cary, North Carolina who allegedly disappeared when she was jogging; found murdered two days later three miles away from her home; husband Brad Cooper charged with her murder in October, 2008.
  • Hannah Upp[25] (August 29, 2008) — 23-year-old woman who went missing in New York City but was later found floating in New York Harbor, apparently suffering from dissociative fugue.[26]
  • Kristi Cornwell[27] (August 11, 2009) — 38-year-old North Georgia woman believed to have been abducted after her boyfriend heard her say, "Don't take me!."
  • Susan Powell[28] (December 6, 2009)—White Utah mother of two whose disappearance received extensive coverage.
  • Chelsea King[29] (February 26, 2010)—17-year-old San Diego teen whose disappearance sparked national media coverage; found murdered, suspect in custody.

In the Iraq War

Critics have also pointed to media bias in the coverage of soldier Jessica Lynch versus that of her fellow soldiers, Shoshana Johnson and Lori Piestewa. All three were ambushed in the same attack during the Iraq War on March 23, 2003, with Piestewa being killed and Lynch and Johnson being injured and taken prisoner. Lynch, a young, blonde, white woman, received far more media coverage than Johnson (a black woman and a single mother) and Piestewa (a Hopi from an impoverished background, and also a single mother), with media critics suggesting that the media gave more attention to the woman with whom audiences would more readily identify.[30][31]

Lynch criticized this disproportionate coverage focusing only on her, stating in a congressional testimony before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary. People like Lori Piestewa and First Sergeant Dowdy who picked up fellow soldiers in harm's way. Or people like Patrick Miller and Sergeant Donald Walters who actually fought until the very end. The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate tales.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Diagnosing 'Missing White Woman Syndrome' Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent, March 14, 2006, 'phrase invoked by Sheri Parks, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park'
  2. ^ Eugene Robinson (June 10, 2005). "(White) Women We Love". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/09/AR2005060901729.html. "'choosing only young, white, middle-class women for the full damsel treatment'" 
  3. ^ Kristal Brent Zook (July, 2005). "Have you seen her? While the families of the missing struggle to bring national attention to their lost loved ones, they sift through the clues and pray for a miracle". Essence. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1264/is_3_36/ai_n14730176. "'"But missing Black women aren't featured as much", says Howard.'" 
  4. ^ Brian Cathcart (April 9, 2007). "The naming of Faye Turney". New Statesman. http://www.newstatesman.com/200704090014. ""They recognised immediately that a woman in uniform is a much more powerful propaganda weapon than a man", wrote Parkin" 
  5. ^ NCIC Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2007 Accessed 2009-07-12
  6. ^ America's Missing David Krajicek, crime writer, newspaper columnist, author and former journalism professor,
  7. ^ Fiona Brookman (2005). Understanding Homicide. Sage Publications. p. 257. ISBN 0761947558. 
  8. ^ a b Yvonne Jewkes (2004). Media and Crime. Sage Publications Inc. pp. 52–53. ISBN 0761947655. 
  9. ^ a b c Part 1: Missing People Face Disparity in Media Coverage
  10. ^ http://news.theage.com.au/national/afp-to-monitor-croatias-lapthorne-probe-20081021-5552.html
  11. ^ "Den försvunna vita flickan-syndromet". svd.se. 2007-06-04. http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/claudialawrence/. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  12. ^ "Missing White Woman Syndrome getting old fast", Lisbeth Wells-Pratt, The Online Rocket (Slippery Rock University
  13. ^ Mitrice Richardson, L.A. County Sheriffs, and ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’, Sara Libby, true/slant.com
  14. ^ "Death of a Hostess"
  15. ^ a b c d “If you’re missing, it helps to be young, white and female”, MSNBC, July 23, 2004
  16. ^ a b c d “Spotlight skips cases of missing minorities”, USA Today, 2005
  17. ^ “House panel passes 'Dru's Law' in sex offender bill”, USA Today, 2005
  18. ^ “Student wrecks car on snowy road, disappears”, CNN, November 26, 2008
  19. ^ "Aruba Investigation Into Disappearance of American Teen Natalee Holloway Is Not Over". FOXNews.com. 2007-12-19. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,317293,00.html. Retrieved 2008-11-06. 
  20. ^ “Race Bias in Media Coverage of Missing Women?; Cheryl Hines Dishes on New Show”, CNN, transcript, aired March 17, 2006
  21. ^ “Remembering Michelle”, CNN, blog entry recaps In Session anchor Jami Floyd's commentary at opening of In Session's coverage of Gardner-Quinn murder trial, aired July 10, 2008
  22. ^ "City of Reno: Brianna Denison Investigation", "City of Reno", 2008
  23. ^ "Sheriff: Anthony home may be a crime scene". CNN. 2008-12-11. http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/12/11/child.remains.found/. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  24. ^ Catherine Donaldson-Evans/Associated Press. "Slain North Carolina Jogger's Husband Charged With Her Murderp". FOXNews.com. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,444380,00.html. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  25. ^ Tara Murtha. "The Mysterious Case of Hannah Upp". Philadelphia Weekly. http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/?inc=article&id=611&x=the-mysterious-case-of-hannah-upp&_c=news--random-act. Retrieved 2008-11-06. 
  26. ^ Marx, Rebecca Flint; Vytenis Didziulis (February 27, 2009). "A Life, Interrupted". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/nyregion/thecity/01miss.html. Retrieved 2009-03-01. 
  27. ^ Associated Press. "FBI Joins Search for Missing Georgia Woman Abducted While Talking on Phone". FOXNews.com. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,540781,00.html. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  28. ^ "Utah Mom's Disappearance 'Suspicious,' Police Say". FOXNews.com. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,580001,00.html?test=latestnews. Retrieved 2009-09-11. 
  29. ^ Dean Schabner. Chelsea King Searchers 'Move Heaven and Earth' to Find Girl. ABC News. Posted: Feb. 27, 2010
  30. ^ "A case of race? One POW acclaimed, another ignored". Seattle Times. November 09, 2003. http://web.archive.org/web/20041206230652/http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2001786800_shoshana09.html. 
  31. ^ Osha Gray Davidson (May 27, 2004). "The Forgotten Soldier". Rolling Stone Magazine ALT mirror article. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/6085435/the_forgotten_soldier/. Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  32. ^ "Testimony of Jessica Lynch". Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20070424110022.pdf. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 

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