Twitter Addresses Disparity In News Coverage When Black Girls Go Missing

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The nationwide coverage of the disappearance of Gabby Petito sparked conversations online about the lack of attention Black girls and people get when they are reported missing.

"Black women and girls go missing every single day, there won't be a local news story let alone a nationwide manhunt," one Twitter user wrote. The sentiment has been shared and re-shared on the platform –– why aren't Black girls, women, children, men, people, given the same media attention when they're reported missing?

A look at the data reveals a dire situation: Black people go missing at disproportionate rates, but their cases receive less attention.

By The Numbers

When it comes to missing children in the US, the idea that Black kids don't go missing at the same rates as white kids is factually inaccurate.

According to 2018 data from the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, of the 424,066 missing children under the age of 18, 37% were Black. Black children only make up 14% of all children in the United States.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that more than half –– 60% –– of the estimated 613,000 people reported missing last year are people of color.

Black women make up about 7% of the total US population but are estimated to make up 10% of all missing persons cases. Data gathered by the Black and Missing Foundation (BAMF) estimates that there are 64,000 missing Black women and girls.

Where's the Coverage?

A 2010 study found that missing Black children only made up about 20% of cases covered by news outlets. In 2015, researchers found that missing Black children only made up 7% of media references despite making up one-third of missing persons cases.

Experts say that media coverage is crucial when trying to find a missing child or person.

"It puts law enforcement on alert, and they add additional resources to the case," BAMF Founder Natalie Wilson explained to the Philadelphia Tribune in 2019. "If no one knows about it, then no one's doing anything to find them or to help them get the assistance they need."

The Tribune's report listed several reasons some experts believe media coverage isn't the same when Black people go missing, among them is the hesitancy to call police.

The wide-reaching impact of the strained relationship law enforcement has with Black communities is directly involved in people's hesitancy to speak to authorities or make a report, newspaper.

"There's a sense of distrust between law enforcement and the minority community," Wilson said, noting that a "no snitching" mindset might prevent people from speaking up.

Further, the potential for unintended consequences –– like deportation for people who are undocumented immigrants or being accused of neglect –– of making a report is also very real.

Families also may not have the financial resources to respond to their child being missing. Hiring a private investigator, taking off from work to aid in searches or speak to or follow up with law enforcement and media are costs families and loved ones may not have the resources to pay.

People may also not know what to do when a child goes missing. There's a misconception that you have to wait 48 hours before making a report, but Wilson says it varies by state.

The Black and Missing Foundation also helps Black families create posters, file reports, and navigate the process. Please click here to learn more or donate to their cause.

Classified As Runaways

One of the cruel reasons Wilson says many Black girls and children are not receiving media coverage is because they are classified as runaways instead of being missing.

Many people think of children going missing as having to have been abducted by a stranger, but a missing child can refer to a child who's been abducted by a family member, children who leave home either on their own or after being lured by someone else.

Law enforcement, Wilson said, often classifies Black children as runaways without having all of the relevant information, so Amber Alerts aren't sent out and media coverage doesn't happen.

"We tell parents all the time, you know your child better than anyone else, their behavior, their characteristics," Wilson said. "If you believe your child did not run away, you just have to stand firm with law enforcement and let them know that this is uncharacteristic of your child."

Black children who leave home voluntarily are vulnerable, Wilson said, noting that many end up homeless or in foster care. The risk of sex trafficking is also high for missing children.

Regardless of how a child goes missing, Wilson said each case deserves urgency.

"We have to be mindful," Wilson said. "What did they leave from, and what are they ultimately running to?"

Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available: 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264

The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001

For more mental health resources, click HERE

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