Missing White woman syndrome refers to the phenomenon where White women who go missing receive more press coverage, radio time, and public support than women of colour.
The term missing White woman syndrome originates from news anchor Gwen Ifill, who coined the term when discussing the racial hierarchy seen in media coverage of non-White victims.
Recent cases of Black women who have gone missing in the U.K. have once again drawn into question the visibility Black victims receive. This is seen in the case of Owami Davies.
Owami was a Black student nurse who went missing this July in London. Owami was missing for over 7 weeks and was eventually found safe and well on August 23. During that time, over 5 men were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murder. Many people took to Twitter using the hashtags #SayHerName and #FindOwami to try and boost public attention to her case.
During the investigation, the Metropolitan Police (MPS) also released the wrong image of Owami.
Throughout this time, I constantly thought about the substandard service Black people receive at the hands of the police. After Stephen Lawrence's racist murder in 1993, the Macpherson report was published in 1999 that spoke of institutional racism within the British police service.
Like many Black victims, Stephen was not seen as a 'real' victim. Likewise was his family, deserving tenderness, compassion, and dedicated police response. It seems that after almost 30 years, this remains true.
The month before that, I was thinking about Blessing Olusegun and how her body washed up against the shores of Bexhill. A coroner's report concluded that Blessing had drowned. Even though her mother claims she could not swim and would not have gone into the water intentionally, the police automatically ruled her death as an accident.
A month before that, I was thinking about Richard Okorogheye. Although a boy, still invisible to the police due to his Blackness. When his mother called the police for help, they responded, "we can't find your son, if you can't." As with Blessing, his body was later found in a lake.
A month after that, I was thinking about Child Q and how Black children's tenderness is always invisible to the police, with the adultification of Black children present. After Child Q's degrading strip search, she requires therapy and self-harms.
The month before that, I was worried about Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, two young Black women who were butchered to death in a park in South London. These are some other women who had lost their lives at the hands of a man. Their families grief was further compounded when she phoned the police multiple times, and yet the family was the one to find their bodies.
To add to this injustice, two police officers then took photographs of their bodies and shared them in a WhatsApp group chat with 40 other people. Two P.C.s were later jailed in 2021.
This month, I was thinking about how Black and other racialised people's killings are less likely to be solved due to the many young Black people's deep mistrust. Black people find it very hard to trust the police for a variety of reasons, and, as such, it means Black victims are less likely to come forward when hurt.
Sociologist Nils Christie speaks about the 'ideal victim.'
Christie's 1986 'ideal victim' is a person or category of individuals who, when hit by crime, most readily are given the complete and legitimate status of being a victim.' The ideal victim is weak: elderly, sick, or very young; engaged in a respectable act prior to their victimisation, a female and White, which mostly aligns with notions of feminine demeanour.
In a racialised and classist society, it is often non-White victims that never receive ideal victim status.
Black people are often hyper-visible to law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies when they are suspects of crime but always invisible when they are victims. Research from the Huffington Post shows that Black people's mugshots are more likely to be distributed. The press is more likely to document Black people's arrests or other encounters with law enforcement.
In 2006, the then London Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Ian Blair, accused the media of 'institutional racism' in its reporting of murders. He claimed that 'murders in minority communities do not seem to interest the mainstream media.' As a result, Black and other racialised groups are less likely to receive justice, and their perpetrators are brought to justice.
Black people also receive less support and resources than their White counterparts when they are victims of serious crimes.
Cases such as Madeline McCann that still haunt Britain speak to the visibility of White victims and their perceived worthiness. To this day, the police continue to look for Madeline. Despite this, many children go missing every year, disproportionately Black children, but have never received the press coverage that McCann received questions the value we place on different lives.
Missing white woman syndrome has led to a phenomenon of tough-on-crime policies, often championed in the name of White female victims of crime, that will disenfranchise racialised groups, specifically Black people. Feminism often excludes those that are not White, and can focus on only middle class White women, withoughout an understanding of its dangerous implications.
The term carceral feminism refers to feminism that mainly advocates for draconian practices in the criminal legal system in the service of women's rights and safety. This feminism has been criticised as exclusionary, without understanding the intersectionality of race and gender that render Black women vulnerable to violence and a racist carceral system.
Of course, this is never to say that White victims should not matter, but that Black victims should matter as much as their White counterparts. Black lives matter and should matter more than they currently do. Black victims should be invisible no more.
Say their names.
Share This Post On
Leave a comment
You need to login to leave a comment. Log-in