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National attention rarely highlights missing minority children

May 8, 2013

(RNN) – The discovery of three missing Ohio women held hostage for almost 10 years has brought national attention to those who are abducted and go missing daily.

What does not become national news as often are the numbers of minority children and adults who go missing. The blame for this is the phenomenon called the “missing white girl syndrome” and many blame local and national media for its lack of coverage.

According to the Chicago Citizen, “missing white girl syndrome” refers to “the disproportionate degree of coverage in television, radio, newspaper and magazine reporting on an adversity, most often missing person case, involving young, white, upper-middle class frequently blonde woman or girl.”

The contrast is played against missing boys or men, minorities and people of different classes.

According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center’s Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2012, a total of 265,683 minorities were reported missing in the U.S., out of 661,593 children.

According to the NCIC, 42 percent of those minority child abductions are African Americans.

Since their inception in 1975, the NCIC has not given specific statistical data for missing Hispanic persons. According to the FBI’s Investigative and Operational Assistance Unit, “the race breakdown was decided at that time [1975] based on visual looks rather than blood lines.”

Studies have been published since the early 1970s about missing minority children represented in the media. According to the 2010 study Missing Children in National News Coverage: Racial and Gender Representations of Missing Children Cases, “although a relatively large number of African American children are actually missing, they are significantly underrepresented in television news.”

Derrica Wilson, the president and co-founder of the Maryland-based nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation, Inc. and a veteran law enforcement official says, “The nature of missing person cases is not just a black or white issue, it’s an American issue.”

The mission of BAM FI is to “create public awareness campaigns for public safety and provide parents and loved ones of missing persons with a forum for spreading the word of their disappearance.”

“Often times, cases of missing minorities are stereotyped. Children are classified as runaways therefore, they are not receiving the Amber Alert or media coverage; missing minority adults are labeled as associated with criminal involvement, gangs and drugs, therefore their stories are not highlighted in the media,” said Wilson.

Wilson says the lack of news coverage is staggering, with nearly 40 percent of missing persons are persons of color, yet, minorities make up 13 percent of the population.

“Less is more,” said Wilson. “Showing less of one particular race and more of everyone that is missing, [the] greater the chances of a reunion. Our goal is to create an equal playing field for missing persons.”

Since their inception in May 2008, Wilson says BAM FI has come a long way with partnering with local and national media outlets and law enforcement agencies, but they still have a long way to go.

“It’s not just the sole responsibility of law enforcement – its law enforcement, the community, the media, we all play a very important role,” said Wilson.

BAM FI’s success is in recovering missing persons of color. Wilson said families and law enforcement continue to reach out and request assistance with these cases.

The story of the missing women in Ohio comes the same month of National Missing Children’s Day, May 25, and the Black and Missing Foundation is holding their first annual ‘Hope without Boundaries’ 5K Walk/Run to promote awareness and exposure for the day and those who are missing.

Other national foundations, like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, focuses on outreach for the abducted, and on the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Photo credit: KLTV

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