December 5, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘Authorities Searched Exhaustively for Gabrielle Petito. What About Others?’

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Featured Article: “Authorities Searched Exhaustively for Gabrielle Petito. What About Others?,” by Frances Robles (Leer en español.)

Have you heard of Gabrielle Petito? The 22-year-old Ms. Petito disappeared during a road trip with her boyfriend in September and was later found dead. Her story was widely shared on social media, made front-page headlines and appeared in news alerts. However, the families of many women who go missing, especially women of color, struggle to receive this kind of attention as they attempt to find their missing family members.

In this lesson, you will learn about the cases of Black, Indigenous and Latina girls and young women who have gone missing, and the people trying to bring light to their stories. Then you will reflect on the role race and gender play when it comes to news coverage of missing people, or identify some ways you can help support the cause of finding missing girls and young women.

Had you heard about Gabrielle Petito before starting this lesson? If so, where had you heard about her story? From the news, social media, the radio, friends, family or somewhere else?

Why do you think this story captured the world’s attention?

Joy Reid, an MSNBC host, said of the case, “The Petito family certainly deserve answers and justice, but the way this story has captivated the nation has many wondering, why not the same media attention when people of color go missing?”

What is your reaction to this quotation? Do you notice anything about the race, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity of the people often profiled in missing persons cases?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. Why has the coverage of the Gabrielle Petito case been compared with the coverage of Black, Latina and Indigenous women and girls who are reported missing each year?

2. How have individuals, families and organizations tried to address the lack of support from the police or the media they perceive in searching for missing women and girls of color?

3. How does Callahan Walsh, a child advocate at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, understand the racial disparity in how missing persons cases are approached by the police?

4. Choose one statistic from the article and react to it: What does it tell you about the current situation of missing women and girls in the United States?

5. According to Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black & Missing Foundation, what kinds of responses do Black families often receive from the police when they report their child missing?

6. Why did Rita Turner say that watching the nonstop coverage of Ms. Petito’s disappearance was hurtful? What responsibility does the news media, including The Times, have in this situation?

7. How have different government sectors tried to address the issue? What success, if any, have they had?

Option 1: What is your reaction to the article?

Reread the quotation from the warm-up, as well as your response to it. Has your perspective or opinion changed after reading the article?

What do you think should be done to address the racial disparity in missing persons cases? What role should the media play? How do you think local governments or police departments should respond? What could people in your community or other organizations do?

Option 2: What can you do to help?

Visit the website for Black & Missing Foundation, one of the organizations mentioned in the article that identifies and tries to find missing persons. Spend a few minutes exploring the website and then respond to the following questions:

  • Why does this website exist? How does it help address the racial disparities in missing persons cases?

  • What are two or three things ordinary people can do to help support the cause of finding missing girls and women? What could you do if you hear that someone in your community is missing?


Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.

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