The Missing White Woman Syndrome/Effect is prominent in our society, and with social media picking up on otherwise unreported news, it’s more obvious than ever.
So, what is missing white woman syndrome? And why does society seem to care less when women from BAME communities go missing? Let’s dive into this, and what we can do to help change it.
Let’s use the main example. The little girl that we all know and have heard of. Her disappearance has led to book deals and even a Netflix series, and almost £12million. Yes, it’s Madeleine McCann.
A tragic story, but one that is really hard to escape. Thirteen years later, and her disappearance is still reported on ever week – with a new lead, witness, or even suspect.
Nobody is denying that the search for Maddie should be ongoing. She deserves that right. However, what about all the other missing girls who do not fall into the same middle-class and white box?
A child is actually reported missing once every two minutes in the U.K, and yet the only time the country opens their eyes is when one from a privileged socio-economic background disappears.
This becomes especially eye-opening when you realise that the missing children are disproportionately Black, Asian or from minority backgrounds.
In around ten years, unfortunately, countless young girls have been reported missing, and have never been found. These include girls such as Na Dang, Hayad Ahmed, Heydari Nastaran, Elizabeth Ogungbayibi, Aamina Khan, Na Thi Hoang and Kadia Diane. None of which had dedicated police forces looking for them, or dominated news cycles. Some were never reported on – not even once.
All of which are horrible stories, some eerily similar to that of Maddie’s – and yet, they don’t get the same attention. What does this say about our society?
The truth is if these girls had been white and middle class, they would have been given much more news coverage. We might even know their names – rather, they newspapers, authorities, and society as a whole dismisses it.
Parental child abduction is a lot more common than what you may believe. The fact remains, every single missing child should be looked for. Every child is equal. Every woman matters. Yet, only certain ones make headlines or get legal help. This is a big issue.
It’s also proven that children from ethnic minority backgrounds are more susceptible to parental abduction. This is why missing children disproportionately are from Black and Asian backgrounds.
The way the media reports on missing children is undeniably unequal.
We can see this clearly from the unequal coverage, and how the media does report on missing white women compared to missing black women.
There is an urgent crisis of missing black women and girls – something which was brought to light by Michelle Obama with #BringBackOurGirls. This has been relaunched a couple of times, however, the statistics don’t seem to be changing.
These cases, despite being more prevalent, don’t get the same coverage.
This is where the Missing White Woman Syndrome term is used. It’s used to show how incidents, where a white woman is missing (particularly from middle-class origins), receive national, sometimes international attention. This happens while others are ignored.
This predominately relates to women of colour, but also women from lower socio-economic backgrounds, too. Class plays a major role in society.
However, this is still related – as a result of privilege and racism, those with BAME heritage are more likely to be from a lower socio-economic background, too.
This can also be related to the damsel in distress – where the damsel is almost always white.
Historically, stories about women being in trouble have often been used to demonise people of colour, and actually justify any violence against them. This is entrenched in our society.
This isn’t to say that a white woman’s disappearance isn’t a negative thing. Of course, every kind of violence against a woman is horrible, unjustified, and deserves legal action. Equally.
It also isn’t positive, either. When journalists and politicians use the tragedy and discomfort of a disappearance, converting it into a moral outrage – for money and attention. Crimes committed against white, middle-class women sell papers and gain a following, and no tragedy or woman should be capitalised off like that.
Here’s where change needs to happen. As a society, we need to ensure that everybody gets closure on horrible events, not just the families of white women. With this, black women will be more protected with the knowledge that their life will be thoroughly investigated.
Everybody should be treated equally under the law, and this isn’t the case. That’s why movements like Black Lives Matter and “Say her name” is so important. They are pushing journalists to reconsider how they report on missing black women.
The truth is, the wider world may never have heard about many of these missing women children and women, but their families are still demanding answers. They still hope they will be reunited, or the truth will prevail.
In an equal, fair world, the Home Office would pay £12 million to help find all missing children, not just one. By failing to do so, they unequivocally show where their priorities and interests lie. This is an insult to all the missing children and women, as well as their families. The colour of their skin or class should not decide whether they matter.
As you read this, more children have been reported missing. More women have been reported missing – these are disproportionately from Black and Asian backgrounds.
Ordinary people are not to blame for not knowing about the extensive number of missing black and brown girls. The lack of media coverage of missing black and brown girls never informs us.
Social media plays a bit part in finding out about missing people – but this still isn’t good enough. We need to push for more media coverage AND more legal funding for all children and women.