Lately, there has been much talk in the media about an “epidemic” of missing aboriginal women. In my not so humble opinion, however, these media reports have been disingenuous at best and outright harmful at worst.
First, the term “epidemic” is specifically used for its shock value. It simply does not apply. The term applies to infectious diseases most correctly. However, even if we did apply it to missing women by analogy, which is something that has a long and glorious precedent in English, it still is not appropriate. For it to be an epidemic, it has to be affecting a significant fraction of the population. Since nobody seems to be willing to represent the numbers as fractions of the population but instead bandy about numbers like “hundreds”, it is clear that shock is intended, not fact.
Second, no comparison with other groups of people is provided anywhere. No additional information about the specific missing aboriginal women is provided. The reports are specifically designed to create outrage rather than a reasoned response. Quite frankly, such outrage mongering should carry with it a stiff penalty but enforcing such would be problematic at best and nigh impossible more likely.
What I want to know is the following:
- How many aboriginal women are missing and over what time frame.
- How many total aboriginal women are there.
- How many non-aboriginal women are missing over the same time frame.
- How many non-aboriginal women are there.
- What is the analysis of the backgrounds of all the missing women, aborininal and otherwise.
- What is the analysis of the steps taken to investigate the disappearances.
The first four points speak to the notion that aboriginal women are somehow more likely to disappear. That may well be the case, and if so, we need to figure out why. However, if the actual numbers do not bear it out, then we need to know that too. There is no point focusing on the aboriginal aspect if it turns out not to be relevant.
The next point is intended to control for other factors. Are missing women more likely to be economically disadvantaged? Were the women escaping from abusive relationships? Are there other factors? Even if the faction is higher among aboriginal women, the specific factors are the ones that should be considered investigationally, not race.
The next point covers the possibility that insufficient investigative efforts have been employed in some cases. The quesetion needs to answer who was doing the investigation, what was investigated, what evidence was available, and what the outcome of the investigation turned out to be. It’s entirely possible that the problem is with the investigators and nobody else.
Now, let me be clear. Missing women should be found, regardless of race, economic background, religious affiliation, or any other factor. Hell, not just women, but any missing person should be found. Focusing on the racial aspect in this case is not helping the situation any. Sure, if there does turn out to be a racial aspect after an objective analysis of the facts, that is worth focusing on, but that analysis needs to be done on a case by case basis.
If it turns out that aboriginal women are, indeed, more likely to go missing, again after an objective analysis, then clearly the root cause needs to be determined. However, if it is simply due to aboriginal women tending to be more disadvantaged economically and that is why they seem more likely to disappear, then clearly the problem is not women disappearing but whatever is causing the economic disadvantage (which is not automatically racisim, by the way).
In short, we need to focus not on the fact that aboriginal women are missing. We need to focus on the fact that women in general are missing. It is doing a disservice to all women of all backgrounds to focus on one race. (That is, by definition, racist.)
Finally, the level of media coverage of a disappearance is not an indication of the investigative efforts that were or are put into a specific case. Most disappearances never get reported in the media, or never get mentioned prominently and the media itself is not responsible for the investigation so it makes no difference if they notice a sequence of disappearances on a highway in BC or not – it only matters if the investigation by relevant authorities is throrough. At worst, this is an indictment of the media, not the investigation done by authorities in the unreported cases.
Likewise, it makes no difference if the general public four provinces away even care about specific disappearances. After all, people in Ontario have their own local problems going on which command their attention and unless there is some local connection with an event in Alberta, why should they waste their resources on that problem when they are better spent dealing with local ones? Yes, that sounds callous, but it is also realistic. So just because I don’t spare much thought for the disappearance of a dozen women on a highway on the other side of a mountain range, it doesn’t mean I support said disappearances! It just means I’m more concerned about things that directly affect me day to day, and that is as it should be.
After all that, my request is simple:
- To the media: report the facts and only the facts. Make sure the facts are complete. Do not attempt to skew or spin stories for maximum impact or to manipulate public opinion. Do the research. Attempt to disprove your working theory. Don’t just attempt to prove it.
- To the general public: do not just react to a news report. Think about it. Consider if the presented information is complete. Do not simply react to a berzerk button word like “aboriginal”. Think. Are there other factors that might just be relevant and make the berzerk button work irrelevant? Is the specific berzerk button issue a subset of a much larger issue that should be considered instead? In other words, exercise your intelligence and think about the complete situation before you start participating in protests are writing to your member of parliament.