Posted by: Cassie MyersEmbed from Getty Images
If you’ve read the news in the last five weeks chances are you’ve heard about the disappearance of Hannah Graham. The 18-year-old University of Virginia student has been all over the news since she went missing on September 13.
Have you heard of Tyrell Alexander, Kaitlan Coan or Tong Shao? All three were reported missing around the same time as Graham, yet these names are unfamiliar to most. There’s a reason why and it’s called Missing White Woman Syndrome.
This syndrome claims that the media is more likely to cover a story on a young missing white woman than on someone of a different gender, race or age. In other words you aren’t hearing about Alexander, Coan and Shao because they are male, black and/or Asian.
Anyone with the CNN app has been getting frequent updates on the Graham case, but Shao, a Chinese international student at Iowa State University who was reported missing on September 17, has remained out of the headlines. Nine days later the 20-year-old’s body was found in a trunk in Iowa City. Coverage of the story was minimal and locally driven.
Perhaps the intense speculation of Graham’s disappearance has to do with the suspicious activity leading up to it, but the statistics on missing persons in the United States are staggering and it puts such coverage into question.
In 2013 the National Crime Information Center recorded 627,911 missing person cases. 462,567 of those cases involved those under 18 and 14,500 of those were categorized as involuntary or endangered. If more of these cases were widely publicized maybe tragedies such as the one involving Shao could be avoided.
There’s no right way to balance so many cases and certainly a person’s value can’t be measured against another, but it seems apparent that there is a gap in media coverage in these kinds of situations. What do you think is the best way to handle missing person cases? How is the media supposed to decide which cases deserve national coverage?