The disappearance of Gabby Petito on September 11, 2021, in Wyoming, garnered mass media coverage and unwavering support like I’ve never seen.
The fact is, according to U.S. Department of Justice, 710 indigenous women have vanished in Wyoming within the last ten years and none have gotten mass media coverage, local support, constant FBI presence, or victims advocates such as John Walsh speaking out.
Let me be clear: In no way do my opinions mean to diminish Gabby Petito’s death and her family's suffering, but my heart breaks for every indigenous woman that deserved the same level of commitment from authorities. I simply ask, where is the justice for all the indigenous women that have gone missing?
Indigenous women are generally either hyper-sexualized or completely ignored and existing in the middle has proven to be dangerous. Women are reduced to mere hashtags on social media when we disappear and our families are left heartbroken without closure. Families are not given the support or opportunities to seek help from media outlets or victims advocates. Furthermore, government data and statistics documentation rates of missing and murdered indigenous women is skewed and many women are misclassified which means the number of missing indigenous women is higher. U.S. attorneys often decline 70% of the cases due to lack of evidence and many indigenous women are never found.The issue is complicated and the perception from authorities is that missing and murdered indigenous women is a reservation issue but many of the assaults occur in nearby communities which leaves families in limbo dealing with jurisdiction problems.
In 2019, more than 5,590 indigenous women were reported missing; however, federal agencies collecting data often misclassify indigenous women as white or Hispanic. In 2016, the Department of Justice logged 116 cases however there were 5,712 reports of missing indigenous women across the U.S. According to the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the median age of victims is 29, 1/3 of indigenous women are assaulted in their lifetime 96% of the assaults were perpetrated by non-indigenous men, indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murdered and sexually assaulted than any other ethnic group and sadly, 95% of cases do not receive media coverage. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System states 62% of cases are not included in the official missing persons database.
According to Secretary Deb Haaland, missing and murdered indigenous people is a crisis that requires more focus and effort to unravel the threads that contribute to the alarming rates of cases. The fact is, indigenous women deserve to be protected and deserve justice and for too long, the crisis has been ignored. The Gabby Petito case just highlighted the obvious disparity in how women are seen in society—some are worth saving while others are just forgotten.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement arose in part to highlight the disproportionate crimes. They have organized marches, meetings, afforded training for the police, and built a database in an attempt to correct blatant misinformation.
Missing indigenous women simply deserve to be brought home.