Often Unsolved, Underreported.
According to the National Center For Missing And Exploited Children, there were around 613,000 missing persons cases that were reported last year in the United States. Black women comprise around 7% of the entire population, yet the estimated number of them who’ve gone missing, including girls, is 64,000 — which is a bit more than 10% of those missing in the entire country. Woah.
Looking at this ratio, it is evident that there is a big problem. Yet, it can be argued that not many cases are being featured across media reports in this regard. Needless to say, these cases that aren’t being frequently reported on are also not being solved. What is happening to the black women and girls in America?
So Why Aren’t We Seeing These Cases?
People are starting to notice…and have labeled this bias as “missing white woman syndrome.” Beyond a coined media term, this concept has significant, measurable impact. Apart from the obvious discriminatory nature of this, how can we break down the specific components of what is contributing to the problem?
Overarching racial disparity and crime data.
Even though they are not the majority of the population, at approximately 13%, black people often make up a significant percentage of missing persons at around 30%— making them overrepresented in terms of going missing.
African-American missing persons cases are often older and left open, with black children being more likely to remain missing than white or hispanic children when looking at the same time span.
Statistics show that black people are portrayed in news media predominantly in incidents of being offenders, but not as victims of crime. The lack of reporting of missing persons seems to be matching the trend of this representation. This disproportionally skews perception, not reflecting the accurate data behind:
This routine minimization of being an actual victim of crime may be contributing even more to the lack of assistance available for said violence.
Current legislation surrounding cases of missing persons.
Because of many issues regarding legality in terms of reporting someone as a “missing person,” black women are often classified instead as “runaways” in many instances. This makes the resulting measures of alert and police detective work even more of a drawn-out challenge — and as we know in regards to finding a missing person, the longer it takes from the time it happens, the less likely you are to actually find them and be able to bring them home safely.
Further, the stereotypes associated with being labeled a “runaway” does not draw attention to the violence against women and girls that it deserves. Many missing people have not actually ran away — but have been kidnapped or become victims of trafficking. Additionally, for those who actually are a “runaway,” they are often doing so in attempts to escape abuse and violence. Many who run away from home are experiencing abuse — and many are left without many options to flee this situation, doing so with very little planning. This can lead to homelessness or accepting the help from strangers who will cause them even more harm, increasing the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime.
Some progress is being made on this front, with advocacy and non-profit organizations like the Black and Missing Foundation working to highlight the cases of black women gone missing. Ultimately, the best solution is likely the development of new legislation that would help bring much needed equality to reporting and systems of alert to ensure that marginalized groups such as black women and girls are receiving fair representation when it comes to saving their lives.
Current systems of alert, notification, and media.
Systems like the AMBER Alert have a strict set of criteria that must be met in order for reports to be broadcast publicly. This in many instances has worked to put cases of black women and girls at a disadvantage in receiving this exposure, further contributing to their case remaining unsolved.
However, there is another system of notification called the RILYA Alert, which has not yet been adopted by most all of the states. This alert was created after an African-American child, Rilya Wilson, who was missing for over 8 months basically before anyone even knew she was gone. The founders from Peas In Their Pods hope that by implementing such a system, there could be great improvements made to notifications and finding missing black children. It is intended to serve as an extension or “add-on” to the AMBER alert, not as a replacement. There are still many legislative barriers and issues with the using of RILYA, but this kind of system would be an excellent solution to a persistent and unsolved problem.
It Is National Run Away Prevention Month.
The aim is bring light to cases that are often invisible, started by the National Runaway Safeline. Solving cases starts first with at least knowing about them. In honor of this, I challenge my fellow writers to cover cases of missing black women and girls, or specifically address the issues surrounding these disappearances.
When we don’t talk about missing black women, we are doing them and everyone else a huge injustice, leading to a failure to protect and prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place.