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‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’

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News of missing woman Gabby Petito captured the attention of both the media and the public leading up to the discovery of her remains in Grand Teton National Park on _Sept. 21. The coverage of Petito’s disappearance and her death, which has now been ruled a homicide, have raised questions for many on why hundreds of missing Indigenous people have not received the same press or attention.

“Indigenous people in Montana are four times more likely to go missing than non-Native people, according to a state Department of Justice report,” Nora Mabie wrote for the Great Falls Tribune. Despite making up about 6.7 percent of Montana’s population, Indigenous people represent 31 percent of the state’s active missing persons.

PBS NewsHour Anchor Gwen Ifill coined the term “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” to describe the phenomenon where a media coverage of a missing person correlates directly to their demographics and background. The Tribune’s Mabie writes that not only is there a disparity in media coverage between Petito and missing Indigenous people, but the search efforts and public interest vary as well.

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