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Gabby Petito, missing since September 11th. Photo: Instagram @gabspetito
Gabby Petito went mssing on Sept. 11. Photo: Instagram- @gabspetito

What is Missing White Woman Syndrome and why does Gabby Petito's hit it on the nose

The disappearance and murder of Gabby Petito generated comments of all kinds, including some who claim her case reflects Missing White Woman Syndrome.  

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The case of Gabby Petito's disappearance and murder has made headlines across the country and beyond. Since Sept. 11, when her relatives reported her missing, police operations have not stopped until they find out what caused her disappearance and death. 
 
Some experts say the explosion of her case is due to the fact the 22-year-old had become a YouTuber and had a large presence on social media, where she had been documenting her life and travels with her boyfriend until the time of her disappearance. 
 
However, activists claim there is a racial undertone in the importance given by media and in the interest of the authorities solving the case because, while the police and other agencies involved have put all their resources in finding Petito, a 22-year-old blonde, there are hundreds of young people of color, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans who remain missing that do not generate any massive deployment of news and searches as in the case of Petito.
 
This type of occurrence is referred to as the "missing white woman syndrome," a term used by social scientists and media commentators to refer to the disproportionate media coverage — especially on television — of cases of middle-class white women or girls compared to the relative lack of attention to missing minority women and missing men or boys, all of whom are lower class.
 
Danielle Slakoff, an assistant professor at California State University Sacramento, who researches criminal justice and the media, told The New York Times that in her research, she has found that missing white women and girls receive more initial and repeated coverage and are often portrayed as good people while women of color are often characterized as complicit in their own disappearances by taking unnecessary risks.
 
Although missing of people belonging to other ethnic groups are more frequent, they do not generate the same media interest or intensive searches at the same level as they do for white people.
 
In the state of Wyoming, where Petito's remains were found, 710 Native Americans were reported missing between 2011 and 2020, according to a Wyoming State University report. 
 
In addition, from June 1 of the same year to Sept. 23, 63 black youths and 27 Latinos under the age of 25 have been reported missing, according to the NameUs database. None of the cases have been followed up on by the media or law enforcement.
 
"White, attractive, young and seemingly 'innocent' victims get more media attention," Michelle Jeanis, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, told The Washington Post
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