On Friday, Netflix dropped an original true crime documentary series about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, a then 3-year-old British girl who was abducted at a Portugal resort in 2007 while her parents dined at a nearby restaurant. Her case, which remains unsolved, immediately garnered widespread coverage from international media, and, after the release of The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, it has become the topic of conversation again.
One of the most heavily-reported missing person cases of modern history, there are numerous theories about what happened to the girl, and many are investigated in the eight-episode series. One of the most widely-believed premises is that Madeleine was abducted and sold into a sex-trafficking ring. The now-15-year-old child’s body has never been found, leaving her parents to believe that “there is still hope that we can find Madeleine.”
While Madeleine’s case is horrifying, it’s unfortunately not unique. In the US alone, an estimated 460,000 children go missing every year. A majority of these youth are of color. According to Robert Lowery, vice president for the Missing Children Division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, about 35 percent of them are Black and another 20 percent are Latinx, CNN reports. Unfortunately, while these young people were abducted, ran away and/or forced into sex trafficking in our own backyards, news of their disappearances hardly make local news, let alone national or international headlines.
This was apparent in 2016, when two young women in New York went missing and were soon found murdered in New York within a week. One of the women, 30-year-old Karina Vetrano, who was horribly beaten, raped and strangled to death while taking a jog in Queens, received national headlines. The other, 20-year-old Dominican-American Maylin Reynoso, whose lifeless body was found floating in the Harlem River, was barely covered in local news.
This particular case of media racism isn’t distinctive, either. Zach Sommers, a law and science fellow at Northwestern University School of Law, investigated the anecdotal theory that women and girls of color receive different treatment from the media when they go missing. According to his research, both race and gender play a role in the amount and type of coverage they receive.
“A person’s race plays into the types of assumptions we make,” Sommers recently told Refinery29. “The labeling of teenagers as runaways tends to be racialized. There is a hierarchy of victims in the media and in society, where we are more willing to label a young white girl as blameless.”