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From JonBenét Ramsay to Asha Degree: Biases and Contemporary Consequences for Sexualized Missing Girls

Evan W McCracken, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Compared to missing Black girls, missing White girls are more likely to receive any and repeated media coverage following her disappearance (Sommers, 2017; Slakoff & Fradella, 2019). One potential contributor to this discrepancy is racialized sexual perceptions of the missing girl. A pair of complementary studies—one experimental (Study 1) and the other archival (Study 2)—examined the relations between target race (White versus Black), target sexualization presentation (non-sexualized versus sexualized), and target description (missing versus runaway) on psychological (Study 1) and actual (Study 2) sympathy and supportive measures (e.g., news coverage). As hypothesized, participants were more sympathetic and supportive of missing versus runaway girls (Study 1). Also consistent with hypotheses, when a Black missing girl was presented in sexualized versus non-sexualized ways (via her actual missing poster), she was less likely to have any news coverage or any updated information concerning her case (Study 2). For White missing girls, sexualization presentation did not affect results. Overall, the current work suggests that race and sexualization affect how missing girls are perceived, though the effects were more nuanced than hypothesized. Discussion centers on the theoretical implications (psychological and legal) as well as the devastating real life consequences of these findings, especially for missing Black girls. Recommendations are provided for regulating which images are selected for online postings and how the media should discuss missing children cases.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Psychology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

McCracken, Evan W, "From JonBenét Ramsay to Asha Degree: Biases and Contemporary Consequences for Sexualized Missing Girls" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI30487696.