Friday, December 11, 2009

Missing Utah Mom: All Women are Equal, But Some are More Equal than Others

Susan Powell, a 28-year-old mom in West Valley City, Utah, didn't turn up for work on Monday, and neither did her husband.  By midday, her sister had called police and they had found that the whole family was gone, but Susan's keys, cell phone and car were still at her home.  Around 5 o'clock, her husband turned up with the kids, ages 2 and 4, and said that he had been camping.  He told police that he had last seen his wife about 12:30 that morning, as she was going to bed.  He had then bundled his kids up in the middle of the night and taken them camping in temperatures below 20 degrees and forgotten that it was Monday, not Sunday.

Susan Powell is still missing, and her disappearance is being classified as "suspicious" by law enforcement.  They aren't naming names, but I don't think you have to have a degree in criminal justice to figure out that her husband is a major suspect.  Either he is very odd and innocent, or he is guilty and a very bad liar.  Time will tell.

This story is all over the news today, four days after Susan Powell went missing.  I do not begrudge her the media attention, and I hope it helps to find her.  But I can't help but contrast this situation to the case of the 11 dead women who were found at a single house in Cleveland, Ohio.  In that instance, some of them were gone for months before anyone reported them missing, and some were never reported at all.  Certainly none of them got the kind of media coverage that Susan Powell is getting.

There are some practical reasons for the difference.  Obviously the media will not cover the disappearance of someone who has not been reported missing.  The victims in the Cleveland case were very disproportionately transient, homeless, or prostitutes -- the people who are poorly connected to the rest of society and, frankly, that society doesn't worry too much about.  That makes reporting of their disappearance less likely.

Let's face it, though.  Part of the reason Susan Powell is getting much more coverage than the Cleveland victims all did combined is that she is a white, middle class, young mother.  She is the stuff crime shows are made of.  The victims in Cleveland are the people who we accept, as a society, will go missing -- African-American women engaged in drugs or prostitution or living on the street.  We don't worry about them when they're there, and we don't worry about them when they disappear.

We like to pretend that every human life is precious to us in this country.  These two cases point out that that really isn't true.  We'll prosecute the killers of anyone, yes.  But there are some women on the fringes of society that we won't work too hard to protect.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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