Posted on October 5, 2021

Gabby Petito Deserves Justice, but ‘Missing White Girl Syndrome’ Hurts Us All

Karen Attiah, Washington Post, September 28, 2021


In a country that suffers from regular, feverish bouts of “missing White girl syndrome,” the families of non-White people who go missing often have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.

In the United States, Black people account for a third of active missing cases in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, despite only being 13 percent of the population. Native Americans also appear on the list disproportionately.


The relentless coverage of 22-year-old Gabby Petito’s murder puts the lack of exposure given these cases into sharp relief. And it’s not just all the attention paid to what happened to Petito. The resources devoted to the search for Brian Laundrie, Petito’s fiance and the last person to have seen her, speaks volumes about how far the media and law enforcement will go to ensure justice in cases of missing White women or girls.

There is no doubt that the Petito family is going through unimaginable shock and pain over her killing. Her case deserves attention and justice. But all of the missing deserve this. And so the wall-to-wall coverage of the Petito case has been an added slap in the face to the loved ones of non-White and LGBTQ people who haven’t gotten it.


What’s more, non-White and LGBTQ people too frequently have to fight against assumptions that members of their community have done something to cause their own disappearances. {snip}

Not only are such comments demeaning, but they can make families and victims reluctant to approach law enforcement in the first place.

It’s true that in many vulnerable communities, there is hesitation to officially get law enforcement involved when a person goes missing. It’s good that organizations and initiatives like BlackAndMissing Inc. are being created to provide help in such cases. This year, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that a new Missing & Murdered Unit would be formed to address the long-neglected epidemic of disappeared Indigenous people.

We in the media have a responsibility to rectify the harm caused by our habitually reinforcing the notion that non-White and LGBTQ lives don’t matter.