The Underserved Populations of Missing Persons Cases
I first became interested in missing persons cases back in 2010, at 10 years old. I always saw the faces of missing persons on the wall in Walmart, and forced myself to remember their names, their faces, to make sure they weren’t forgotten so that even if the world forgot, I never would. These experiences always pushed me to question why there were so many missing, and why so many of them were BIPOC. These missing people are someone’s family, someone’s friends and this fact alone, pushes me to never forget.
In 2019, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) entered 609,275 missing persons records into their missing person’s database. At the end of the year, they reported that, of those previously entered cases, 87,438 remained active, which is still alarmingly high. This drastic difference in numbers was reported to be due to law enforcement locating the person(s), the person(s) returning home or the previously accepted record was found to be invalid.
There are also definite large, underlying issues that impede such missing persons cases from being solved, such as underlying bias that resides within Police forces, institutional racism or a lack of effort from these investigative parties; many police forces, for example, require 24 or 48 hours of not hearing from a person before they investigate, which can put the missing person in more danger. There are also issues, at times, with lack of evidence or information to utilize, and with racial misclassification (for example, a missing person is labeled as white, but when they are actually a person of color.) The likelihood of finding a missing person alive also narrows drastically after the first 72 hours, and makes these cases more unlikely to be solved after that point.
Although most communities are affected disproportionately, one community that is always heavily hit hard by lack of resources and interest by governmental institutions is the Native American (Indigenous) community. The community is plagued by the lack of governmental resources, high murder rates and high rates of violence.There was also only a recent overturning of a 35 year-old ruling that said Tribal courts couldn’t prosecute non-natives for crimes committed on Native land, but the recent ruling, which re-enacted the Violence Against Women Act, only offers a limited jurisdiction over dating and domestic violence cases committed by non-natives on Tribal land. This inherent lack of support from governmental institutions perpetuates the marginalization of the Native community, especially Native women and girls.
In 2018 alone, two dozen Indigenous women went missing in the rural parts of Montana. One of them was Jermain(e) Austin Charlo (Morigeau), who was the thirteenth woman to go missing in the state since January 2018. She was last seen on June 16, 2018 between midnight and 1 a.m. as she was dropped off on Fifth Street in Missoula, Montana. At the time of her disappearance, she was 23 years old. Involved authorities think she may have become victim to human trafficking, which is relatively prevalent in the state. Additionally, her case is still unsolved but this is not unheard of for Native American/Alaskan Native communities; many women and girls in the community often go missing, and are never located again.
In a 2016 report released by the National Crime Information Center, it was revealed that 5,712 reports of missing American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) women and girls were entered, although only 116 of those cases were entered into the Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database, NamUs. This draws concerns to the lack of effort on government officials to solve cases involving indigenous people. For example in Montana, Native Americans are four times more likely to go missing than White people.
In 2017, Urban Indian Health Institute conducted research in 71 cities across the United States and uncovered 506 unique cases of Missing and Murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women. In this research, it was found that 128 (or 25%) were missing persons cases, 280 (56%) were murder cases, and 98 (19%) were of unknown status. Additionally, 153 of these cases were found to not be present in law enforcement systems. Lastly, it was also found that 66 out of these 506 (13%) cases were tied to Domestic and Sexual Violence. This evidence makes it obvious that there are prevalent racial issues within institutions that cause, or have caused, officials to not record (or enter) their information, or not try as hard to solve these cases.
What would you do if this was your child, your sister, your family?
Jasmine Morrow is a senior business administration major who just wants everyone to come home safe. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more and donate, visit: https://www.csvanw.org/mmiw