If you’ve watched CNN recently, you’re probably familiar with Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old New York native who disappeared in August while on a trip with her fiancé. Her body was later discovered and her death ruled a homicide.
The fiancé is now missing and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued a warrant for his arrest. The case has captured the country’s attention, with the Florida governor tweeting, “[W]e need justice for Gabby Petito.”
A name you might not be familiar with is Miya Marcano, a 19-year-old who went missing in Florida 10 days ago. There were signs of a struggle in her apartment and the main suspect has since committed suicide.
A body believed to be hers was discovered last Saturday. Her case was covered by local (state) news services and the T&T Guardian printed stories about her as she is the daughter of a T&T-born, Miami-based DJ. But there haven’t been any tweets from the Florida governor.
Comparing the coverage of these two women begs the question—why has one gained nationwide media exposure and the other has not?
There are two explanations…depending on who you ask. One commentator on CNN explained that Miss Petito’s social media account makes it an au courant topic.
That the narrative of a happy, carefree couple contradicts the reality that her relationship may have been an abusive one; a police report of a domestic violence incident alludes to this.
The other explanation comes from minority groups and persons of colour—that this is yet another example of “missing white woman syndrome.”
It’s the criticism that missing person cases involving white, upper-middle-class women and girls, pretty ones especially, receive disproportionately higher media coverage.
The criticism also highlights that the reporting is skewed. For missing black women, the focus is on their backgrounds and behaviours, subtly suggesting that they are to blame for their situation.
Whereas for missing white women, the focus is on their roles as mothers and daughters, portraying them in a more sympathetic light.
This implicit bias extends to how law enforcement responds. For missing persons of colour from impoverished communities or broken homes, their families complain that police tend to assume they are runaways or are involved in illicit activities. As such, attempts to locate them are seldom initiated.
For now, let’s put aside the racial and socio-economic implications of this “syndrome.” As insensitive as it sounds, Misses Petito and Marcano are the lucky ones. Even with the disparity in media coverage, their cases have gotten considerable attention.
And as long as they remain in the spotlight, it will encourage law enforcement to continue their efforts. That is, of course, until another sensational story comes along for the media to obsess over.
So what do these missing American women have to do with Trinidad and Tobago? In our country, missing persons don’t get the attention they deserve—not from the media, not from the police service and not from the public.
When it comes to crime, the murder rate is the metric we pay attention to; the number of missing persons—not so much.
Sure, they will get a brief mention in the news, along with a photo, a physical description, what they were wearing, where they were last seen; and the police will ask for the public’s assistance in providing information.
But that’s usually the last we ever hear about them. Think about it…can you name five persons who are listed as missing?
It could be suggested that a similar form of the before-mentioned syndrome exists locally, with pretty, young girls and persons from affluent communities gaining more attention than a teenager from a single-parent home in Laventille.
Andrea Bharatt comes to mind for the first group, and Tanya Barker for the second (look her up).
Unfortunately, the lack of media coverage is hardly the worst part. The frequency that persons go missing in this county—young women and teenaged girls especially—is alarming.
And that so many of them disappear without a trace… How?! Ours is a small island with a small population; somebody in the national community knows what happened to them.
While Andrea Bharatt’s father wishes his daughter were found alive, at least he was able to give her a proper funeral.
Tanya Baker’s family, like the families of other missing persons, continue to wait in agony.
For years there have been speculations regarding the fate of missing persons. And the authorities have never addressed them; the response is always that they are “looking into it.”
It’s shameful how there isn’t more public outrage about this. To be clear—the media is not obligated to run perpetual stories on missing persons (though the coverage might help).
Ultimately, the onus is on the Police Service to conduct proper and thorough investigations. But the only work it seems capable of doing these days is arresting curfew-breakers.
As for average citizens, is there anything we can do—other than pray that it doesn’t happen to you or your loved ones? I really don’t know.
Gabby Petito has a Wikipedia entry. Miya Marcano has the Florida-Caribbean community supporting her family.
Andrea Bharatt sparked a social movement for change.
But for the hundreds of citizens who remain missing, they aren’t even a fleeting memory.