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Missing White Woman Syndrome

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Delko: Blonde girl's missing and the National Guard turns out to help. Hispanic girl, no one gives a damn.
Calleigh: I think there are a lot of people here.
Delko: Oh, come on, Calleigh. You saw the media's response to Lana Walker. You know? Where were the yellow ribbons for Consuela Valdez? The recovery center? It's the same song, you know? You want any real attention in this world, you got to have blonde hair and blue eyes. (To Calleigh) No offense.
Calleigh: None taken. My eyes are green.
CSI: Miami, "Death Grip"

The term Missing White Woman Syndrome describes how Western media will focus on the murder, kidnapping, or disappearance of Caucasian females — usually pretty, young, and middle- or upper-class — to the exclusion of male, minority, poor, and/or disabled missing persons.

The origin of the term is unclear. Although Professor Sheri Parks of the University of Maryland claims to have coined it circa 2005, it apparently has been in use among journalists (and for years before that (the late PBS anchor Gwen Ifill used the term in a panel discussion in August 2004, for example). It's also been referred to as "missing pretty girl" syndrome and "Damsel in Distress" syndrome. In particular, the United States (and to a lesser extent Canada) has the AMBER Alert, which is a special alert code for child abductions and was named for the young white daughter of influential parents.

The most likely ignored missing person is the Disposable Sex Worker and/or the Disposable Vagrant. For more information, including a detailed breakdown of the coverage cycle and links to dozens of cases, see this article at Wikipedia. This column at has some thoughts on it, and in the years since this trope entry was first written many more writers have weighed in on the topic.

In fiction, writers tend to be more savvy and aware of the use of this trope, but often invoke related cultural sensibilities like Vasquez Always Dies and Final Girl.

Compare If It Bleeds, It Leads, Local Angle, Worst News Judgment Ever.


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    Comic Books 
  • Briefly referenced in the Confessor arc of Kurt Busiek's Astro City, when a series of ritualistic killings becomes worthy of a public panic only after a white girl becomes one of the victims.
  • An Invoked Trope in Watson and Holmes. Someone was kidnapping black babies all over New York City and leaving them to die in dumpsters. It was only when he kidnapped a white baby that the police took real action.

    Comic Strips 
  • Prickly City: Winslow comments that Kevin's disappearance is getting a lot of attention considering he's not blond. (Mind you, he's a Senator.)

  • Scary Movie:
    • Parodied when Cindy Campbell sends a message to the police saying "White woman in trouble!" The next shot is of the house surrounded by police crews.
    • In the third movie:
      Brenda: Oh come on. Cindy, the news is on! Another little white girl fell down a well! Fifty black people got their ass beat by the police today, but the whole world gotta stop for one little whitey down a hole! note 
  • Used in Gone Baby Gone. The kidnapping of an adorable little blonde girl gets huge media coverage. When a little Hispanic boy is kidnapped by a pedophile two months later and brutally raped to death, nobody really cares until it's all over.
  • Invoked in Gone Girl by Amy Dunne who is banking on this to help screw over her husband after she fakes her death (along with several other Batman Gambits). It works.
  • L.A. Confidential:
    • Lampshaded when Inez Soto ties the men who kidnapped, brutalized and raped her to the murders of white people at the Nite Owl diner because otherwise, nobody in 1950s Los Angeles would care about getting justice for a Mexican immigrant.
    • Lampshaded again when Jack Vincennes needs to call in favors to investigate the murder of a man that Jack led into a homosexual tryst in order to catch the DA for blackmail material. The other cops ignore it because the victim was supposedly gay.
  • Referenced in Candyman.
    Helen Lyle: "Yeah, but y'know what bugs me about the whole thing? Two people get brutally murdered and the cops do nothing, whereas a white woman goes in there and gets attacked and they lock the place down."
  • Invoked in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay when a corrupt, racist federal agent motivates his team by showing them a picture of a young white girl, saying that she could be captured and raped by terrorists.
  • An example from Primeval, when Orlando Jones points out that the Crocodile is just like OJ: eating up a bunch of Africans, no one gives a fuck, kills one white lady, and they send the news crew.
  • In Gridlock'd, Spoon calls an ambulance to help his friend who has overdosed and gets hung up upon when they hear his voice. When he calls again, he says something along the lines of "there's a white woman hurt and a bunch of black guys smashing cars and yelling about the revolution!"
  • It's really easy to miss, but it gets lampshaded in Megan is Missing. The movie features news coverage of Megan's disappearance that dedicates several minutes to tell the audience how popular and beautiful Megan is while showing pictures of her. At the end of the segment, the reporter quickly mentions another missing child named Turcell Jackson, and goes to commercials.
  • Lampshaded, in a way, in A Time to Kill. A black man shoots two white creeps who raped and battered his little girl and left her for dead. At his murder trial, the attorney defending him bluntly describes to the jury what happened to the child, in no-holds-barred, graphic, sickening terms. And concludes: "Now imagine that she's white."
    • The actual plot doesn't really follow this, though. The police did find and capture them; we'll never know if they would have ultimately escaped justice since the father murdered them in cold blood before their trial, obviously not wanting to take the chance that they would be caught or acquitted if they were caught.
  • 21 Jump Street: Jenko and Schmidt are sent undercover into a high school to find out about a new synthetic drug being sold. Their captain (played by Ice Cube) says that since it's white people dying, the police care.
  • 22 Jump Street: Lampshaded. When the two learn that the victim is a black girl, Schmidt tries to say that it's even sadder now that the victim's black solely to curry favor with the captain.
  • On a meta level, this was why Kerry Washington accepted the role of a fairly standard Damsel in Distress in Django Unchained, because, as she described it, Hollywood so rarely creates movies where the plot is driven by the quest to save a black woman's life.
  • Freedom on My Mind: This film is a documentary about the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Many progressive young white people descend on the state in order to help black people get the right to vote. More than one person interviewed notes that the most important reason that white college kids had to be brought to Mississippi to help, is that the national media would care a lot more if clean-cut white kids get murdered in Mississippi than they would if black people get murdered. Thus the presence of the white volunteers is necessary to draw attention and to gain the sympathy of white America. (And in fact, the murder that galvanizes opinion across the nation involves two white people (albeit Jewish) and only one black person.)
  • In Mystery Road, Jay is worried that the murder investigation is not getting the resources it needs because the victim was an Aboriginal girl from the wrong side of the tracks. When a second Aboriginal girl turns up dead, Sarge says that they're handing the investigation over to a homicide team from the big smoke. This infuriates Jay, who knows they won't accomplish anything as they do not know the area or the locals. It is at this point that Jay goes full Cowboy Cop.
  • In a geopolitical sense in Lord of War. Yuri Orlov is a shady arms dealer who mostly sells to African warlords and dictators. The western governments barely notice him because his customers use his guns to kill other Black people, and devote all their attention to the "white war" in the former Yugoslavia.
  • A very poignant inversion in The Hunger Games, with the death of Rue, the only black girl in the games. It's presented as the ultimate tragedy, and the only Tribute death that Katniss weeps hysterically over. The movie even shows Rue's death resulting in riots, which arguably kicks off the proper uprising in Catching Fire. The effects of this trope were in effect however when some book fans missed the lines describing Rue as dark skinned, and assumed her to be white because of her role as the innocent (and subsequently complained about the casting). Both the book and film were noted to be significant for uniquely portraying the personification of childhood innocence and sweetness as a black girl.
  • Discussed in Balibo. José calls out Roger for seemingly caring more about the death of five white journalists than the countless East Timoreans who have been slaughtered by the Indonesians. Roger explains that he intends to exploit this trope to draw attention to East Timor's plight, but José is unconvinced.


  • Lampshaded in Dragon Blood: Tisala relied on this trope when she joined a conspiracy against the king, as he could not so easily kill a woman of noble birth without it being noticed. It ...didn't really work as she intended.
  • In the novel Reliquary, the string of kidnappings in New York garners media attention only after a pretty young blonde woman from an Old Money family vanishes.
  • The Black Dahlia: A central theme of the novel James Ellroy novel and the real-life unsolved murder case on which it is partly based. In-universe, why the Black Dahlia murder becomes so infamous. The graphic nature of the crime combined with the fact it was a beautiful (white) woman is stated to be the reason the newspapers are all over the death. It is also why the department is giving it top priority as they wish to justify a recent budget increase.
  • In Pop Goes the Weasel, one of the Alex Cross series of detective novels, a cunning Serial Killer is estimated to have possibly killed more than 100 people throughout Washington, D.C. A big part of his winning strategy was to only kill women who were black, poor, prostitutes, or otherwise people the media and police wouldn't care about.
  • America (The Book) gives us this handy little formula: "y = Family Income * (Abductee Cuteness/Skin Color)^2 + Length of Abduction * Media Savvy of Grieving Parents^3 (Where y = minutes of coverage)".
  • The absence of this trope is what makes the Janie series (1990-2000) an Unintentional Period Piece (among other things). If Janie's kidnapping had happened now, no doubt there would have been a huge media sensation about the disappearance of a pretty white girl from the suburbs.
  • In Native Son, the presumed kidnapping of Mary Dalton is this trope, with extra emphasis on "white."
    • The protagonist is eventually charged with the rape and murder of his (black) girlfriend, but it's suggested that the only reason they're throwing the book at him on that case is because he's also on the hook for Mary, and they want him to face the harshest possible punishment.
  • In Asta's Book by Barbara Vine, the central mystery of the Victorian part of the story is the disappearance of golden-haired toddler Edith Roper after her mother is murdered. Asta's granddaughter Anna, writing in the present period, assists with a Masterpiece Theater production about the (still unsolved) murder. She notes that journalists covering the show are obsessed with Edith: "Children are always of interest, girl children for some reason more so, and missing girl children consumingly so."
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn follows the huge media coverage following the disappearance of Amy Dunne, an upper-middle-class blonde woman. However, there are other reasons for the coverage, such as Amy being a minor celebrity for inspiring a famous book series called Amazing Amy and Amy's husband, Nick, behaving very suspiciously during the investigation. It's an Invoked Trope and an Exploited Trope as well. Not only did Nick not kill Amy, but it turns out she was the real psychopath and went to extreme lengths — including staging her disappearance and letting the media assume Nick's guilt — just to get back at him for infidelity.
  • Dark Places, also by Gillian Flynn, has a subplot about a Missing Pretty White Woman named Lisette Stephens. The trope is lampshaded heavily as everyone believes she is probably dead and comments that the only reason she keeps getting attention is that people only care about disappearances when it's pretty women like her that disappear.
  • After Jan deals with some violent thugs seeking some payback for their earlier beating (at the hands of Jan's grandmother) in Unique, he insists that he's just looking for information regarding a murder victim. The dark skinned men look at the white male demanding information regarding a missing white woman, and everyone present immediately thinks of this trope.
  • In The Extinction Parade, this trope is the reason why vampires use the poor as their main food source. They treat hunting upper- and middle-class people as a form of Hunting the Most Dangerous Game, as when one of them goes missing, it typically sparks a manhunt, forcing the vampire to devote considerable resources to covering up the death as something mundane like an accident, a suicide, a mugging gone wrong, or a crime of passion. When someone from the slums goes missing, however, it's usually chalked up to street crime, with few outside of the victim's family paying it any mind. As Western standards of living grew in the 20th century and eliminated the most grinding forms of poverty, this has forced many vampires to move to Third World countries, where there are still teeming masses of desperately poor people that society won't miss, in order to maintain their lifestyles.
  • Independence Day: Frank's colleague at the realtor's office, a young black realtor named Clair, was raped and murdered when she went out to show a house, and the case remains unsolved. Vonda the secretary says that the FBI would be all over the case if Claire had been a white woman, but Frank thinks to himself that the FBI did look at the case and found it to be most likely "simple murder" and not a federal crime.
  • Michael Connelly novels:
    • In The Black Box, Harry Bosch is investigating a cold case regarding a white woman killed in the 1992 LA riots. He meets a lot of internal LAPD resistance, as the brass fears being accused of Missing White Woman Syndrome.
    • In The Scarecrow, Jack McEvoy accuses the LAPD of the Syndrome when the murder of a white woman near the crime-ridden Rodia Gardens housing project leads to a police raid.
  • Discussed in Race to the Sun: When Nizhoni's father is kidnapped, she knows that calling the police is useless, as he is a Navajo man and, to make matters worse, his kidnapper is a rich white businessman.
  • Troubled Blood: Robin and Cormoran are investigating the disappearance of Dr. Margaret Bamborough, a white lady missing for 40 years. They interview the daughters of the late Wilma Bayliss, the black woman who was a cleaner both at the clinic and at Bamborough's home. Wilma's daughter Eden scorns at all the attention paid to the long-missing pretty white lady, noting that a black teenager named Tiana Medaini has been missing for a year and nobody cares.
  • Discussed in Worm when Emma is attacked by the Azn Bad Boyz; one gangster suggests kidnapping her, but another ridicules the notion, saying people would actually look for a kidnapping victim if she was white.
  • In the Irish vampire novel Young Blood, Adrian chews out Miranda for her sloppy murder of a teenage boy but then notes that at least she wasn't stupid enough to kill a white girl - as that would inevitably draw all sorts of unwanted media attention.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mentioned by Katherine Ryan in Frankie Boyle's Referendum Autopsy.
    Katherine: They don't want to make it easy for you, the media. It's like a puzzle. They'll give you little clues, and you've got to do some of the work. Like when they say "Emma Watson, hot ass and nude photos", what they're really saying is "oh, she's given a UN speech about gender equality". When they say "Girl goes missing", what they're really saying is "white girl goes missing".
  • Played for Comedy in 30 Rock, when Avery Jessup, Jack's wife and a very smart, headstrong financial reporter, visits North Korea for an NBC News segment and is taken captive. Jack and Avery's mother Diana become frustrated with the media's lack of attention to her story, leading to Diana saying this:
    Diana: My daughter is a beautiful, white American! SO WHY ISN'T EVERYONE FREAKING THE FUDGE OUT?!
  • Averted entirely in season 1 episode of Lincoln Heights, "Abduction" where Lizzie is kidnapped. The local media and police give their full support to the black family. While it could be due to Lizzie's father being a respected police officer that the police are so supportive, the issue of race never becomes a factor.
  • Without a Trace
    • Addressed in the episode "White Balance", in which the agents investigated two cases — that of a white slacker party-loving teenage girl, and that of a black hard-working kind teenage boy. They must cope with the white girl's case getting constant attention and the black boy's getting none, in one instant the news interviewer left just after finishing up with the father of the white girl, completely ignoring the black boy's mother. This episode concludes with a No Ending — we're told one lives and one dies, but not who. Made worse later on when the media does start paying attention to the black boy's case — when it looks like he may have been involved in the white girl's disappearance.
    • In another episode, Jack confronts his new boss for focusing on a child kidnapping case at the expense of the disappearance of a lesbian case worker...which is Fridge Logic in itself, as there is a chance the case worker just walked away while the kid is definitively in danger.
    • Another episode had Jack insist on taking the case of a missing black foster child, telling his foster father that despite the lack of evidence of foul play, his case would grow cold in the hands of the local authorities.
  • Brought up in Veronica Mars when Weevil mentions that shortly after the murder of Lilly Kane, a little girl from his neighborhood named Marisol Reyes disappeared, but she didn't warrant the same amount of media coverage or therapy sessions for the students. (Weevil was fogging the issue, not wanting to bring up his own affair with Lilly. At the same time, Lilly was the daughter of a minor celebrity. Also, Reyes simply disappeared, whereas Lilly was brutally murdered.) Notable because due to the nature of the show, the point of Weevil's tirade was ignored on the fanbase, who thought that the introduction of the Reyes case was going to be an important part of the Kane case. It wasn't. Also, this would have reflected badly on Keith Mars, since he would've been sheriff at that point.
  • CSI: Miami:
    • Horatio Caine moaned about it in an episode, telling a reporter to cover the missing (non-white) girl they're looking for that week.
    • Also the page quote, in an episode in which a young, blonde white girl and a dark Hispanic girl are kidnapped by the same man in a very short space of time; the former, of course, gets loads of coverage. The episode ends with Horatio giving a reporter a list of names of recently missing people whose disappearance didn't gain media attention and suggesting he follow those up instead.
  • Actually inverted in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. In the second season, the plot is partly driven by the desire to rescue Naevia. Out of all the slaves that rebelled, she was the only non-white woman and portrayed as a complete innocent. There are two white Action Girls in the army who are treated just the same as the other male combatants. Granted, Naevia's importance is partly because Crixus wishes it and he's one of the army's best fighters, but the show still treats her rescue as a huge priority.
  • The Wire:
    • Discussed (specifically the Natalee Holloway case) when McNulty and Freamon suggest that the lack of support from their bosses in solving more than twenty murders is due to the victims being poor and black, leading to the episode's epigraph — "This ain't Aruba, bitch."
      Bunk: You can go a long way in this country killing black folk. Young males especially. "Misdemeanor homicides."
      McNulty: If Marlo was killing white women...[..] One white...ex-cheerleader tourist missing in Aruba.
      Bunk: Trouble is, this ain't Aruba, bitch.
      Lester: You think if three-hundred white people were killed in this city, every year, they wouldn't send the 82nd Airborne? Negro, please.
    • McNulty then partially invokes this trope by staging dead white homeless mennote  to suggest a serial killer is targeting them. The trope is so strong that even this is not good enough at first; since no one cares about the homeless, he has to spice it up with a vague sexual angle to make the front page. Once the story is hot enough, the trope is double-invoked when Scott Templeton starts capitalizing on this to win himself a Pulitzer Prize.
      McNulty: Turns out nobody gives a fuck about a serial killer, unless he's hacking up some pretty co-ed or something.
    • Reporter Alma Gutierrez's report on a triple homicide in West Baltimore is pushed back to the metro section, below the fold because, as her fellow reporter put it, "they're dead where it doesn't count".
  • Law & Order:
    • When a young black girl is raped, Anita pleads with Borough Detective Commander Dietz to allow more teams out covering the streets to find the attacker. She says: "I bet if this was some five-year-old white beauty queen you'd be out there ringing the doorbells yourself."
    • Discussed in another episode where a white woman is attacked in Central Park in what appears to be a mugging, prompting a storm of media interest. In this case, it turns out that the victim's husband hired someone to go after her:
      Detective Briscoe: The mayor down there yet?
      Lt. Van Buren: White female jogger gets attacked in Central Park. It happens once a year and it's always the crime of the century.
    • Also referenced in an episode where a Latino crook and his middle-class white girlfriend are responsible for the rape and murder of a white teenage girl. McCoy says it was very wise of the guy to request a plea deal early on: otherwise, given the circumstances, the jury would most likely throw the book at him and acquit his girlfriend (even though she's the one who actually killed the victim.)
    • In the episode "Blue Bamboo", detectives find that the killer of a Japanese businessman is a white actress who once worked at one of his Tokyo nightclubs. Her defense is that he was incredibly abusive to her during this time—to the point of practically holding her prisoner—and that she killed him in self-defense. It's never clear if she was lying, but when she's acquitted, Jack claims that her story would never have worked had the man been white as well.
    • In the episode "Good Girl", the killer makes False Rape Accusation against the victim, claiming to have acted in self-defense after he assaulted her. When it's revealed she was lying and instead killed him because he was breaking up with her, fed up with her hiding their interracial relationship, it becomes obvious that she was using racial stereotypes to smear his name and get away with her crime.
  • In an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the disappearance of a white girl on a school trip becomes the subject of a media frenzy and is eventually tied to the disappearance of a local black girl. The mother of the black girl excoriates a Nancy Grace knock-off for coming to her only when her daughter's disappearance was tied up with the white girl's — the mother is willing to use the "journalist" for much-needed publicity, but she doesn't for one second think the woman cares about her or her missing daughter. She also calls out the cops for blowing off her daughter's disappearance, but sending in the Major Case Squad to investigate the white girl's and points out the bitter irony that had the cops and media paid more attention to her daughter's case, the white girl might still be alive because the young man who (it was assumed at the time) killed both of them would have been arrested for the first crime. (She turns out to be Right for the Wrong Reasons about that.)
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • The black cop Fin Tutuola dispelled a crowd of nearly-violent protesters arguing just this by saying that he knew exactly how it was...and that he was going to make sure the black girl victim would get the justice she deserved.
    • In "Spectacle", a young man decides that the only way to get the police to actually work on solving his little brother's kidnapping is to have a pretty blonde girl kidnapped. The only way he'll help them locate the girl is if they find out what happened to his brother. This episode hits particularly hard once you know that the blonde (supposed) kidnapped girl was a friend of his that willingly pretended to be kidnapped because she was aware of this trope.
    • In "Rooftop", a season 3 episode about a serial rapist targets young black girls, Fin goes into the captain's office to vent his utter disgust that even though the rapist has started killing his victims, the core four detectives are the only ones working the case even though a few episodes previous there had been a missing white woman who had thirty officers looking for her.
    • A missing white boy version in "Manhattan Vigil". When a white boy from a wealthy family goes missing, Olivia and Munch are reminded of a different missing child case from thirteen years earlier that occurred in the same neighborhood. Olivia notes that because the child from the earlier case was a Hispanic boy from a working-class family, they had a fraction of the resources in that case. Especially striking because it turns out to be the same guy in both cases; if they'd put in the work to solve the first case, the second case would never have happened. Not to mention the two other boys kidnapped and killed by the same perp.
  • In the Law & Order: UK episode "Masquerade" (based on the original series "Good Girl"), the defendant claims to have killed the victim in self-defense after he raped her and was trying to do so again. Crown Prosecutor George Castle shrewdly notes to his underlings that public sympathy will be with her, a pretty, blonde white girl, rather than the victim, a Pakistani boy.
  • Brought up in Boston Legal when after Denise's Hispanic housekeeper's son is abducted, she goes to Brad for help and points out that since the child is Hispanic, it's not like the media will be all over the case.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street:
    • Averted when the murder of Adena Watson, a black girl, is subject to a major police "redball" investigation and creates a media frenzy. It was based on a Real Life case which resulted in the same. Of course, Baltimore (where both fictional and real-life murders took place) is notable for having a particularly large majority African-American population, which may explain it.
    • Played Straight in "Bop Gun", where the death of a white, middle class tourist and mother causes a media frenzy. One of the detectives sarcastically wonders where all the reporters had been for the death of a black woman they had investigated the previous week.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • An episode featured two serial killers in the same city, one targeting middle-class white women, the other shooting hookers. The police don't even realize the second exists until he gets annoyed and contacts a reporter.
    • Another episode featured a serial killer taking out homeless people, prostitutes, and other such generally-ignored people. Like the real-life Robert Pickton case, most of the authorities are convinced there's really nothing happening. Alluding to real life criticism of the Pickton investigation, Derek Morgan called out the authorities on their apathy, insinuating that because the victims were vagrants was the main reason why the authorities took so long to take action.
    • Yet another episode had a number of black teenage girls being killed, with all the murders looking like hate crimes. The authorities are accused of being apathetic towards the murders, due to a bit of unfortunate timing — the BAU were called after the third girl was killed...alongside her white, seemingly well-off ex-boyfriend.
    • Strangely avoided in "The Fight," the Poorly-Disguised Pilot for the below spin-off. The main team is called in because a series of homeless men are found beaten to death starting the same day each year. It's only the new and improved Red Cell team who realizes that an attractive, Caucasian, brunette teen girl and her father also go missing during that time period. They're actually forbidden from investigating this year's disappearance and told to focus on the traditionally ignored victims, with no lampshade to be seen.
  • In the Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior spin-off this happens in the first episode, complete with the hysterical mother of a black little girl whose kidnapping was ignored. It turns out that the kidnapper has taken a lot of children without being caught because he's really fixated on eight-year-old black girls, and the only way they get both girls back safely is by bucking the media and local cops and working the black girl's case.
  • Everybody Hates Chris played with this, with a joke in the episode revolving around how if you wanted the police to make an active effort to find your missing children, you couldn't say they were black.
    Rochelle (on the phone): "Yes, hello! I'd like to report two missing boys."
    Police: "Can you describe them, please?"
    Rochelle (quickly): "They're white."
    (knock at the door)
    Rochelle: "Hold on." (opens door)
    Policeman At Door: "Ma'am, you reported two missing white boys?"
    Rochelle: "Damn!"
  • Lie to Me had the case of a missing white girl eventually connected with a black girl whose case didn't receive much attention on account of this trope.
  • Vanished hung a lampshade on it: an FBI agent investigating a missing senator's wife tells a reporter that they don't want the same thing: while he wants the victim found safe and sound, she wants her missing for as long as possible to drum up her ratings.
  • Cold Case:
    • "8:03 AM": The squad investigates again the unsolved murders of two teenagers (a white female and a black male) that were murdered in different places but at the same time. The black teen's uncle asks if the coincidence is the reason that the police is giving his case new attention. Kat tells him that it's actually the opposite: she reopened the cases because she was the detective that investigated his nephew's murder back then.
    • In "It Takes a Village," the detectives realize that a serial killer is at work when the body of his fourth victim — a young African-American boy, like the others — is discovered. His enraged grandmother suggests that had the cops handled the other cases properly, her grandson might still be alive, while the parents of one boy angrily describe the other cops as insinuating that their son had run off with a gang. Race is never mentioned, but it's obvious that the relatives feel it played a factor.
  • Used completely unironically as the entire plot of AMC's The Killing. The series is all about solving the murder of Rosie Larson at any cost. Early on the case bring the police to a Seattle mosque where the imam explains that no one in the community is interested in helping the police because the police haven't even bothered to investigating missing children from their neighborhood. After that, the implications of an entire show dedicated to a missing white girl are sort of just awkwardly ignored.
  • The television series Find Our Missing hopes to avert this in at least one media outlet by running stories on missing African Americans throughout the US.
  • Referenced in Key & Peele, a sketch comedy show. One of the segments was about a missing white infant, and the new anchor getting mad because they found the baby before they could talk about it. A few days later the same man tries to give a story about a missing black infant only for the news to tell him not to as no one cares, and then it cuts to them referring to the formerly missing White baby saying she's doing just fine and hasn't been missing in some time.
  • Broadchurch has an example that focuses on the "woman" part of the syndrome rather than the "white". When the Lattimer family wants to know why their son Danny's murder has received almost no media attention, a reporter tells them that it's because Danny was a boy—if he had been a girl, there would be reporters swarming all over the town. The reporter suggests that they could get around this by making Danny's mother Beth the "white woman victim" who would be the focus of media sympathy.
  • A truly chilling example in The Tunnel in which a terrorist kidnaps a group of children and promises to release them only if the public riots against stores that exploit child labour. Once his hostages are whittled down to two, the terrorist holds an on-line vote to decide which child shall be set free and which shall be executed. One is a black boy, the other a white girl. No prizes for guessing which one the public votes in favour of.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: Inverted fully in the Season 6 opener, "Lulu's Gone Away." Lulu Hogg, wife of "Boss" J.D. Hogg is homely and grossly overweight, yet the Duke boys show no hesitation to come to her rescue. Not to mention, the script writers made every effort to portray Lulu in a sympathetic light, as they had since the third season, when she became a regular, and that her ugliness was no issue in saving her from a potentially brutal fate. (Her captors threaten to have her killed if Boss fails to meet their $1 million ransom demand or if the Dukes are even sighted trying to pull off a rescue.)
  • In iZombie a reporter calls out the police for holding a press conference about a recently dead middle-class white girl while not even assigning a detective to look into the dozens of poor people, many of them people of color, who have gone missing from a local skate park recently. They're being murdered to feed zombies their brains, and at least one police lieutenant is a zombie himself who's covering it up.
  • In the first episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the news report for the found missing girls reads "WHITE WOMEN FOUND Hispanic woman also found"
  • Vera: In "Old Wounds", the father of the Victim of the Week complains bitterly that no one seriously investigated when his daughter disappeared - instead preferring to believe she had just run away - because she was miner's child at the time of the miner's strike, and a half-caste. Even when her body is found, he does not believe the police will put any effort into finding her killer.
  • The Night Of: The brutal murder of a beautiful, young, white heiress sparks a media sensation. A few days later, cops investigate the murder of an African-American woman in the slums and sarcastically wonder where all the news trucks are at.
  • In The Exorcist, Casey, the possession victim, at one point vanishes. At the same time, a killer has been targeting black people, brutally murdering them for parts of their bodies. Casey is white, blonde, conventionally attractive and the daughter of Regan MacNeil from the original movie, which nets extra shock value for the press. She gets so much more attention that people actually hold a protest about it.
  • The second half of the second season of Mindhunter deals with the Atlanta Child Murders, during which 30 African-American boys and young men were killed. The FBI/BSU isn't even formally involved until the deaths reach double digits and the local authorities are more concerned with keeping the city's reputation for investors than with apprehending the killer(s). It contrasts glaringly with the (simultaneous) big case of the Season 1 finale, one murder of a white, blonde, teenage majorette, also in Georgia, where the BSU was faxed crime scene photos by the police and was asked to intervene right away.
  • Hill Street Blues: Alluded to in one episode where a homeless black man dies in mysterious circumstances in Hill Street Station's holding cells. At an understandably fractious public meeting in the aftermath, someone pointedly remarks that of the fourteen deaths in custody on the Hill in the last decade, not a single one was white. Captain Furillo defends himself by pointing out that the population of the precinct is literally 87% nonwhite, so the only reason they don't have more white people dying in their cells is because white criminals are mostly getting arrested in other precincts. This does little to improve the mood. It turns out the victim had actually been murdered by the racist biker in the next cell reaching through the bars to choke him while everyone was distracted by a fight kicking off in the lobby.
  • Batwoman (2019): "Fair Skin, Blue Eyes"'s plot revolves around this. We learn that many black kids have been kidnapped, but this isn't investigated much due to racism. Ryan was a victim of the same kidnapper as a child, thinking a student group who investigated were looking for her. However, it was actually a white girl (revealed to be Beth Kane) they were after, with the description that provides the episode's name. She discusses this trope with Mary, lamenting that it still exists and determines not to let those kids stay captives. Only her future girlfriend Angelique (who's white but was at the same group home) cared enough in the past to assist Ryan, rescuing her by getting deliberately kidnapped so she could find her.
  • Day Break (2006): Implied when Hopper attempts to find out who the unsolved "Jane Doe" in the case his father worked on was. He and Damien visit a catholic church, where the sister takes them to a basement with hundreds of photos of missing hispanics going back two or three decades, mostly women and children. Damien also notes that the girl in the photo "looks more like a Juanita" to him.
  • Discussed in season 3 of You (2018). When the rich, white, pretty, and able-bodied suburban wife Natalie Engler goes missing, it causes a local scandal. Marienne (who is black) and Dante (who is blind and gay) explicitly namedrop missing white woman syndrome and say that victims from other demographics wouldn't have gotten as much attention.
  • 13 Reasons Why highlights this. The suicide of Hannah Baker has led to a huge lawsuit from her mother to the high school, all over their complicity in the bullying. In her life, Hannah was a white girl. Her former best friend Jessica, who's biracial, is reluctant to come forward about her rape because she fears she's not as good a victim as Hannah. She likewise straightens her usual curly hair for her court appearance in an obvious attempt to look more Anglo.
  • The Wilds: Toni (who's Native American) says that as there are two wealthy white girls on the island the group is stranded on, a rescue is certain.
  • Two Sentence Horror Stories: In "Heirloom" Montrell complains of this as the police are pretty apathetic when his daughter Vivie goes missing, saying if she were white they would probably start an intensive search. Instead, they just tell him to wait two days and then file an official report, leaving without any further action, simply underscoring one more way black people are mistreated, which the episode's focused on.
  • All Rise: Discussed by Lola and Mark after she presides over a case involving the murder of a black woman, lamenting that murdered women of color get much less attentiion.

  • Sick Sad World: Comes up a few times.
    • The first episode has the hosts unsurprised that a Black serial killer didn't make the news after they find out his victims were women of color. The same episode also discusses a serial killer who targeted men, and didn't get much attention until he killed a white man rather than a Middle Eastern one.
    • "Missing And Murdered" is about indigenous women who've gone missing or been murdered. The title is shared with a larger movement bringing attention to cases of that nature.
  • My Favorite Murder: Averted and discussed. Karen and Georgia spotlight on all kinds of victims, and discuss how this trope affects real life cases.
    • The episode on The Grim Sleeper in particular calls out this trope, as the titular killer went after black women (many of whom were in sex work). The LAPD were apathetic about the investigation for years until the press called them out on it. Karen and Georgia straight up declare that if the Grim Sleeper was killing wealthy white women, the police would have caught him decades ago.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Patrice O'Neal:
    • He has a bit where he mentions that black people judge the beauty of a white woman by estimating how long her name would be in the media if she went missing. He mentions a serial killer of women, who was suspected of killing that white woman who went missing in Aruba, what was her name— (An audience member calls, "Natalee Holloway!") And then there was that Peruvian girl just the other month, what was her name? (The audience is silent.)
    • Later, he talks about the (black) NFL players lost at sea, who were declared dead much faster than the average lost white victims would be. He goes on to say that he won't go out to sea without "a white baby on a keychain".
  • UK comedian Diane Morgan asking why whenever a pretty girl gets killed, people say "look how pretty she was" as though it's somehow more of a loss, but whenever an ugly girl gets killed, no one says "fortunately she was an absolute moose!"
  • While discussing this trope, John Mulaney notes that the media loves to play up the attractiveness of female murder victims to enhance the sensationalism. He then notes that sometimes the hype doesn't live up to the reality. "'Beauty Slain'. Hmm... How about 'Body Found'?"

  • Jason Robert Brown's Parade centers around the trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish man accused of raping and murdering a young white girl in 1913 Georgia. In the song "A Rumblin' and a Rollin'", a black character observes:
    "The local hotels wouldn't be so packed / If a little black girl had gotten attacked!"
  • Ruined: Discussed Trope, and very serious. The play is set in the Congo during The Congo Wars. The violence has culminated to the point where a white missionary is ruined. A local African man is very disturbed by the murder of the missionary; if the militia is lawless enough and confident enough to kill white people, it's a very bad sign for the natives.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age II:
    • There is a Fantastic Racism version with a serial killer who targets elf girls. Law enforcement is not interested — even lawful and good city-guard Aveline is prepared to look the other way if you just kill him. Another factor in this case is that the quest-giver, a city magistrate, is the killer's father. Even the killer (remorsefully) tells you his father is just going to help cover up his crimes.
    • Averted in the case of the game's prominent serial killer Quentin. Even though he's exclusively targeting human women to use their body parts to re-build a simulacrum of his dead wife, no one, save for one old templar, believes that he exists and that these women are simply running off.
  • In Saints Row: The Third, STAG's leader blows off a question as to how their occupation of Steelport will affect its citizens by bringing up the Boss' killing of Jessica Parish in the previous game. The way he tells it, she's just your average girl who fell in with a bad crowd and got killed because of gang violence — conveniently leaving out the part where she was the one who sent her gang to kidnap and torture Carlos by dragging him behind a truck, and that her own death was the Boss getting revenge for that. Not to mention that she's just one of a million other deaths the Boss is responsible for.
  • Referenced in YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG, where both Sammy (an Asian woman) and Aaron (a young African-American boy) have gone missing. Party member Chondra states that if the missing were “beautiful white women”, people would have been more concerned about their disappearance.

  • Spoofed in this Muertitos comic — when the media finds out the lost girl isn't thin, blonde, and leggy (but is instead chubby, blue, and has no legs), they instantly lose interest.
  • Played with in Better Days: Portia is kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring, and the ringleader chews the kidnapper out for targeting a "white shortbread" porn star that will make the news and get them arrested, as opposed to a random hooker on the street that nobody cares about. Except they don't make the news - Portia's cousin cares enough to murder them all and cover it up with bombs and no witnesses.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy
    • Parodied when a crowd of reporters swarms the site of a school bus crash that claimed the life of a young girl. They make zero effort to conceal their disappointment when it is announced that the victim's surname is Gutierrez.
      Irritated Reporter: That's not news!
    • Parodied in the simulation episode, when Stewie kills Cleveland and declares that he has to move quickly. "Black man gone missing? My god, the media will be all over that."
    • And again in "And I'm Joyce Kinney", where one news segment ends with Tom remembering "Oh also, that little girl's still missing" almost as an afterthought; naturally, he mentions that said little girl is Puerto Rican.
    • And in "Bigfat", Peter has gone missing in Canada for two months, one of the rangers says, "Most black men don't possess the skills to survive out in the wilderness". When Lois corrects him, he says, "We need to regroup because we haven't been looking."
    • Once more in "A Shot in the Dark". Peter shoots Cleveland's son, Carter's lawyers assassinate Cleveland Jr.'s character in the resulting trial, and as a crowd of people forms around Cleveland's house, Peter comes clean that none of it was true and he did shoot Cleveland Jr. Cleveland senior takes the blame in his stead - and the entire crowd is immediately gone by the time he finishes his sentence.
    Peter: Wait, wh- where did everybody go?
    Cleveland: You wanna make the media go away? Just mention black-on-black crime.
  • In the short-lived Friday: The Animated Series, the first episode parodies this trope. The media is focused on the disappearance of Suzy Applebee, who's described (completely unironically) as "a white woman with a charming smile" and who looks basically like a blonde Snow White. Through a series of unfortunate events, main character Craig is arrested for her kidnapping, despite there being no evidence to connect him to her or the kidnapping. Towards the end of the episode, he is nearly convicted for the crime until Suzy herself shows up at the proceedings to put a stop to it. As it turns out, she wasn't even kidnapped; she was just out of town babysitting for her sister.
  • Exaggerated to high holy hell in Invader Zim Episode 40, "The Girl Who Cried Gnome". Moofy gets her leg stuck in a dirt mound in front of Zim's house, almost immediately the press, multiple rescue teams, civilians, and helper robots arrive trying to set her free. The US President of the himself appears to make a speech regarding Moofy's ordeal 6 minutes in, and they consider using a sonic vibration device that could destroy the earth just to shoot her out the mound... and when Dib Membrane gets stuck in the same mound, everyone leaves.
    News reporter: Just how many more minutes does she have to suffer before rescue crews can free her? HUH!? *Starts crying*.


Video Example(s):


Becky Gutierrez

During a press conference, the police state a 9-year-old girl was killed in a bus accident only to reveal that the girl was a Latina. The reporters gripe that it isn't news

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / MissingWhiteWomanSyndrome

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