There is quite seemingly a serial killer loose in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. And if there’s not, there certainly still is a murderous epidemic. Nine women have disappeared since 2005, and six bodies have so far been found.
Since 2005, nine women who lived at the edges of the poor community in this small North Carolina city have disappeared. Six bodies were found along rural roads just a few miles outside town, most so decomposed that investigators could not tell how they died. At least one of the women was strangled, and all the deaths have been classified as homicides. Three women are still missing.
Police will not say whether they suspect a serial killer, but people in the community about 60 miles northeast of Raleigh do, and they’re impatient with law enforcement efforts to investigate the slayings.
The community in which these women all lived is apparently a poor, rural one. Many residents suffer from drug addiction, and many women sell sex to make ends meet. It’s unclear from the article whether every woman who has gone missing so far was a sex worker, but it is indicated that at least several were. Many if not all were in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. And according to both the available photographs and an article in The Loop, all were black.
Had you heard this story? Until last week, I hadn’t. Until last week, at which point more media accounts began popping up, pretty much no one outside the town had. And I do believe that I just outlined the reasons why up above.
As La Macha writes in the VivirLatino post “When Sex Workers Aren’t White and Beautiful,” the “Craigslist killer,” who murdered sex workers, was huge news, and the police put valuable resources into finding the man responsible. Which of course isn’t to say that every time a sex worker is murdered, it hits the national media, and police launch a full-scale investigation — not by a very long shot, and that’s exactly why sex workers are disproportionately targets for murderers. Further, even when a sex worker’s murder is covered by the media, it’s almost universally accompanied by disgust and disdain against the victim, and attempts to titillate the audience. But when a serial murder goes on a killing spree, no matter how utterly terrible the reporting is, we do tend to hear about it, and the police do tend to sit up and take notice. When those things don’t happen, the reasons are generally pretty clear.
In a misogynistic society, the lives and bodies of non-sex workers are valued over the lives and bodies of sex workers, and the lives and bodies of beautiful women are valued above the lives and bodies of women who are not considered conventionally attractive. In a classist society, the lives and bodies of middle class and wealthy women are valued over the lives and bodies of poor women, and the lives and bodies of non-drug users are valued over the lives and bodies of addicts. In an ageist society, the lives and bodies of young women are valued over the lives and bodies of middle aged and older women. And in a racist society, the lives and bodies of white women are valued over the lives and bodies of women of color.
The media has a long history of proving the point. When we hear about missing women, it’s almost universally the white ones, the pretty ones, the young ones, the ones who come from “good” families. We don’t hear about missing Black women, or Latina women, or Native women, or Asian women. In fact, there’s a whole blog dedicated to tracking the cases of missing black women and girls which go ignored by the media. We don’t hear about missing poor women, or missing sex workers, or missing addicts. We don’t hear about missing middle aged women — unless they’re white soccer moms who are still considered conventionally beautiful. Because we only hear about the missing women who the bulk of our society sees as having some value. And those women, they don’t have sex for money, or have wrinkles on their faces, or have dark skin.
Racism is believed to be playing a particularly large role in the media’s silence and the police’s disinterest. Stephanie Jones, a woman who knew two of the victims and has been at the forefront of a community crusade to find justice and stop the killings, and is frankly a big part of the reason why there is any media attention on this issue at all now, noted the following:
“It seems like with minorities you don’t see them on Nancy Grace or anything like that . . . But there was a white lady who went missing last week. As soon as she went missing, they had a press conference. And that’s great. That’s what they should do. But around here, they should have done that too. There should have been a press conference. There should have been a search. There should have been an effort.”
And yet, of course, there hasn’t been.
This section of the HuffPo article sent chills down my spine:
Vivian Lord, chairwoman of the criminal justice department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said that if one killer is responsible, he is likely trying to cleanse the world of prostitutes or deliberately picking victims he knows won’t be missed.
The HuffPo writer seems to interpret the statement as meaning “victims whose families won’t realize they’re gone for some time,” but I read it as “victims whose deaths will be ignored by the public and by those who have the power to prevent more from happening.” And with regards to the latter, that certainly does seem to be what has happened so far. When it comes to who we as a society miss, who we notice is gone, and who we care about even when their absence is brought to our attention, the women that this man has murdered don’t fall into those categories. It’s an indictment of us that outside of their immediate communities, these women have not been missed.
This story is age old, but it’s no less tragic. While the women of Rocky Mount have been living in terror for four years, law enforcement is only now beginning to take anything resembling serious action. The billboard you see above is not a result of a police effort, but of Stephanie Jones and victims’ families and other friends. The media has basically ignored the story and so money is scarce, and four years after the first death, national pressure is still in its infancy.
So bodies remain unfound, the killer remains on the street, and more women may die, as the families of victims have to live with the knowledge that their loved ones’ deaths might have been prevented if only someone had cared, if only white supremacy and misogyny weren’t still raging on.
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