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Petito case renews call to spotlight missing people of color

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The disappearance of Gabby Petito has drawn a frenzy of coverage and brought new attention to a phenomenon known as “missing white woman syndrome.”

Many advocates for missing people of color question why the public spotlight that is so important to finding people seems at times to attach more value to white people, and white women in particular. Families of victims from Black, Indigenous, Asian American and other minority households say the burden falls on their shoulders to generate interest.

Unlike white families, they have to ensure investigations don't lean into racism or stereotypes.

The Associated Press reports that in Wyoming, where Petito was found, just 18% of cases of missing Indigenous women over the past decade had any media coverage, according to a state report released in January.

Carol Liebler, a communications professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, told the AP that a number of factors play into this trend. She says both whiteness and conventional beauty standards play a role, along with a lack of diversity among police and newsrooms.

“What’s communicated is that white lives matter more than people of color,” she said.

One sample of 247 missing teens in New York and California found 34% of white teens’ cases were covered by the media, compared to only 7% of Black teens and 14% of Latino kids, she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.