Cases of Missing Women and Young Girls Get Varying Media Attention

Only a percentage of missing girls or women receive national media attention.

ByABC News via logo
March 7, 2010, 8:21 AM

March 7, 2010— -- Chelsea King was the focus of intense media attention and law enforcement effort, with hundreds of officers and thousands of volunteers joining the search for her.

Almost exactly a year earlier and about 10 miles from where King was last seen jogging, 14-year-old Amber Dubois left home to walk to school, never to be seen again. Yet, Dubois' case got far less media attention and seemingly fewer law enforcement resources.

Hundreds of thousands of children are reported missing every year. A hundred or so turn out to be the result of foul play, and only a handful of those get the kind of media scrutiny that King's case got.

Ernie Allen, president of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says the cases that get the most attention tend to involve pre-teen children where it's immediately apparent that foul play by a stranger, not a family member, is suspected.

"Chelsea's case received enormous media attention because it was dramatic and sensational. The child goes jogging in a park area and doesn't come home. With Amber Dubois, nobody saw her disappear, and there's no tangible physical evidence," Allen said. "She just disappeared."

There have been countless high-profile cases involving young girls, including the disappearances of Caylee Anthony, Jessica Lunsford, Somer Thompson and Madeleine McCann, whose story went global because of her telegenic look and her media-savvy parents.

Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, explains that the reason the media tends to go in a frenzy around these types of cases is really because of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Once one of these stories is decided to be covered, there's no turning back," Thompson said. "You've sent your reporters and your trucks to it, and you become invested in it. You start building interest in the story, and your audience wants to hear more about it, so you keep everyone there to continue reporting on it."