Thursday, August 16, 2007

How Gender And Race Affect Media Coverage
of Missing Persons Cases

One of today's banner stories on is actually a pretty good article that compares which missing persons cases receive media coverage (white women, especially those who are young and attractive) with those that don't (men, women of color of any age or level of attractiveness, and everyone else).

The article compares the stories of Stepha Henry, a 22-year-old black woman who disappeared while on vacation in Florida in May, and the well-covered case of Jessie Marie Davis, a 26-year-old pregnant white woman who disappeared from her Canton, Ohio, home in mid-June.
Race, Social Class and Media Coverage

Why does Stepha Henry get less coverage than Jessie Davis?

"The answer is pure unconscious racism," says the Poynter Institute's [Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar]. "But it's not just race. It's also social class and gender."

And the difference in media attention does not go unnoticed.

"There is a huge disparity between black missing women and white missing women when it comes to coverage," [Georgia Goslee, the attorney for Stepha's mother, Sylvia] says. "If Stepha could receive half the coverage of the other white girls who are missing, they might find her."

People of every race and age disappear. But missing minorities, men and the elderly simply don't generate as much media interest.
The article even points out that the cases of missing men go virtually without coverage, as well, whether white or non-white. And the likely reasons for non-coverage of missing men isn't flattering to either sexes.

For 2006, 173,903 missing persons records were entered for adults (21 and older) into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database; 99,736 were men, and 74,167 were women. However, FBI spokeswoman Connie Marsteller refused to draw conclusions from the data, saying because police departments and county sheriff's offices are not required to report missing adults, the information is not complete.

Why do the media - and their audiences - care less about missing men than women? Clark thinks it's because there's a public perception that men can take care of themselves (even though a lot of the missing men might have been victims of foul play).

If a missing person is white, female, young, attractive and has an upper-middle-class background, media coverage of her case will be far more thorough than coverage of missing men, minorities or the elderly, Clark says.

"This taps in to a sort of ancient fairy-tale mentality: the kidnapped princess, the damsel in distress."

So if you aren't the "fairy-tale princess" type, I guess that means you aren't worth coverage? This demeans and degrades the humanity of both the men and women who disappear. It also emphasizes whose lives society tells us to value above others'.

-- Rachel Joy Larris

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