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Portrait Of A Victim: White Women, True Crime, And Confronting Our Own Prejudice

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of true crime, maybe it’s because my parents raised me on Monk, or maybe it’s because my mom was the one who taught me how to read, and she loved mysteries, so I loved mysteries. All I know is that there has never been a point in my life where murder mysteries weren’t everything to me. As I grew older that love went from reading fictionalized novels to researching real cases. As I grew older, I also started becoming more aware of the stories we tended to focus on, the ones that got the most publicity. The cases that became popular were often ones where the victim was a young white female. According to research done at Elon University, 45% of all missing persons were people of color, there is no record of the amount of Native women who go missing every year, and yet almost all coverage concerning missing persons cases have to do with the same demographic. Why are we apparently only concerned about cases with young white women? Is it because we as a society don’t care about any other demographic? And if that’s true, then why?

A case that’s a perfect example of this is the Gabby Petito case. In 2021, around late August, Gabby Petito, a relatively popular internet vlogger, went missing during a cross country trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. The case took the country by storm, within 24 hours almost everyone knew about Petito and almost every single detail of the case was public knowledge. In comparison, in October of 2022,  a student at Princeton University, Misrach Ewunetie, had gone missing and had been missing for six days, and yet people only seemed to hear about her once her dead body had been found. The reason young white women victim cases are more publicized is because we have been trained to perceive young white women as the epitome of innocence. People of color are already perceived in the media as people who are irrationally angry, or job-stealers, we are always accused of doing something wrong, whereas our white counterparts are innocent simply on the basis that they are white. On top of that, women are seen as the weaker sex, the ones who cannot protect themselves. The combination of these two traits paints young white women to be the ultimate victims, helpless and in need of our undying thoughts and prayers.

         It’s not just Gabby Petito and Misrach Ewunetie though, this treatment goes back decades. Take Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer for example. Ted Bundy mainly targeted young white women, whereas Jeffrey Dahmer targeted young black men. Let’s look at the timelines of both these killers. Bundy began his killings in 1974 but was stopped by 1978. On the other hand, Dahmer began in 1978, but he wasn’t stopped until 1991. Bundy was apprehended before he hit five years of killings, whereas Dahmer went on abducting and sexually assaulting and murdering young black men for over a decade before he was even arrested. There are many differences between the two but for the sake of the argument, one of the main differences comes in how willing people were to look for the victims. The sweet, innocent, white women going missing raised alarms almost immediately, and yet the numerous black men going missing were barely investigated.

       The worst part of all of this is that this entire thing is a cycle. The more we infantilize the idea of a young white woman, the more we become one-track-minded to only focus on cases involving them as victims. The more we focus on only those cases, the more we infantilize young white women and contribute to the entire narrative. 

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Tags: mystery true crime ted bundy jeffrey dahmer gabby petito misrach ewunetie


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