Gabby Petito case and ‘missing white woman syndrome’

October 7, 2021


Steve Petito

Gabby Petito’s case remains ongoing.

Chances are, you’ve heard of the Gabby Petito case. 

The story of the 22-year-old woman going missing during a cross-country road trip with her fiance, Brian Laundrie, has exploded across the media and garnered national news attention. 

Many followers of Petito, a lifestyle influencer, are dedicated to tracking every update to the investigation and were therefore heartbroken when Petito’s remains were uncovered in Bridgerton-Teton National Forest on Sep. 21.

Petito’s frightening end has prompted many warnings to women about the harms of abusive relationships, as many individuals believe that Laundrie, who is currently being sought by police, was the culprit in her homicide. 

The craze surrounding Petito’s death can’t help but prompt another meaningful conversation, though: Why is the world so fascinated with this particular individual?

Roughly 600,000 people go missing in the United States every year according to The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, and data shows that only about 65% of homicide cases have been solved since 1965. The number of cases per year that gather as much attention as Petito’s is in the single digits.  

A name for this discrepancy in news coverage has been coined.

“I call it the ‘missing white woman syndrome,’” said journalist Gwen Ifill, “If there’s a missing white woman, you’re going to cover that, every day.”

Indeed, many have pointed out that the attention Petito’s case is amassing is disproportionate to the amount that minority groups are receiving, and that her story should serve as a reminder of others who go missing and are murdered.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland says that while her thoughts are with the Petito family, she also grieves for “so many indigenous women” who have faced the same fate.

A report in the state of Wyoming found that the homicide rate for indigenous people was eight times higher than white people between 2010 and 2019.

“I feel that every woman and every person who is in this victimized place deserves attention and deserves to be cared about,” Haaland said.

Those close to the Petito case are speaking out about the difference in coverage various victims are granted.

“I want to ask everyone to help all people that are missing and need help,” Joseph Petito, Gabby’s father, said at a news conference, “It’s not just Gabby that deserves that.”

Groups in Washington State rally to bring awareness to indigenous members who go missing without any media attention. (Jake Parrish/Yakima Herald)

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