Picture the victim of a typical serial killer. Was your victim a white female, under 25, blonde, and from a good family? According to mainstream media, they’d tick all these boxes. But this isn’t the reality of the situation.
We don’t hear about the majority of serial killer victims. They are overlooked, underreported and rarely have families with the resources to get attention for their case. We don’t see them on CNN, Fox or the local paper. It is important in the context of murder victims to understand that media outlets don’t report because it’s the right thing to do. Media outlets are companies just as much as Walmart is, and they have one true goal: Get your money. As such, only sensational topics make the front page, and that is more often than not something horrific happening to someone you can empathize with. Media companies know that most of us carry positive biases towards young attractive white women, and we find their murder horrific and captivating. We show time and time again, though our clicks and our buys, that they’re right. As such, we are all culpable for the true profile of the average victim. Serial killers prey on those who will go unmissed and unchampioned; they know we won’t cry for the justice of a sex worker as we will for a well-to-do college student, and they’ll use it to their advantage.
In the world of criminal justice, these victims are known as the “less dead.” Violent crimes happen disproportionately to people of color, especially black and Native American peoples, sex workers and addicts. If you just thought to yourself, “Well, that’s because they put themselves in danger more often, serves them right” you just proved the depth of your bias, and I ask of you: Call on the compassion you so often reserve for those who behave in ways you agree with. No one asks to die.
Here are the facts. American serial killers prey on men and women at nearly the same rate 48.6% to 51.4%, respectively. They attack black and Native American people at a rate two times that of their Caucasian counterparts. The average victim age is 35, not 20, as many might assume it to be.
To underline the number of opportunistic killers who preyed on the less dead because they knew public outcry and pressure on authorities would be lower, let’s look into a few specific cases. Please note that going through every case in which a serial killer has specifically targeted minorities or at-risk populations would use more paper than this entire newspaper has, so we are going to focus on a select few. All information is courtesy of the FBI.
Gary Ridgeway, nicknamed the Green River Killer, was a long haul trucker who confessed to killing 48 prostitutes, dumping their bodies in the woods of King County, Washington.
Robert Hansen, the Butcher-Baker, murdered a minimum of 17 sex workers in Anchorage, Alaska, flying them out to a small island only accessible by boat or bush plane, setting them free and proceeding to hunt them down like wild animals as they fled.
Robert “Willy” Pickton, a Canadian pig farmer who abducted 26 prostitutes and fed some of their remains to his swine.
Joel Rifkin confessed to killing 17 sex workers in the New York City area. Of his known victims, four were Hispanic, two were Asian and three were black. Not one of his victims was reported missing.
Samuel Little, who confessed to killing 93 people, almost all poor and black, was not caught until he was 72, more than thirty years after he began his violent crimes.
All these cases beg the question: If these were middle class white women, would these killers be brought to justice more quickly? Regarding Samuel Little’s victims, former police chief Jim Bueermann, who worked on the case, says yes: “One of the unfortunate realities of policing is that departments that are under pressure to solve a variety of murders may pay less attention to victims from a more vulnerable population if they don’t have the same organized community pressure to solve those crimes. If a killer wants to do as many murders as possible, they’ll start to exploit those gaps in the social fabric and those weaknesses in law enforcement with victims that few people care about.” (The New York Times)
Of course, the majority of the blame must fall onto the disgusting persons who committed these crimes. Some blame must fall onto the investigators for letting these victims slip through the cracks and deciding that their suffering was less important than other parts of their workload. Some blame must fall onto the media, for making it easier for them to kill in large numbers by underreporting the deaths of their victims, and essentially showing them that no one cares if they kill these people, there will be no consequences. And finally, we must blame ourselves for our lack of attention to those victims who lead legally precarious lives or those who dared to be born with darker skin.
Every life has value, and we must take it upon ourselves to voice the same outroar for the deaths of these people as we do for the middle class white women whose deaths so often provoke manhunts and TV specials. Please stand up for the right to life for your sisters and brothers of color, or those who find themselves in dangerous lifestyles. No one deserves to be murdered just for living their life.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.
Lia Higgins is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.