At Subcommittee Hearing, Members and Advocates Call for Action to Address Epidemic of Missing BIPOC Women and Girls
Washington, D.C. (March 3, 2022)—Today, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, held a hearing, chaired by Rep. Robin Kelly, to examine the disproportionate rates by which BIPOC—Black, Indigenous, and People of Color—women and girls go missing, the disparate treatment their cases receive by law enforcement and the media, and potential solutions to address this crisis.
“We are here today to render visible this invisible crisis in our midst,” Chairman Raskin said in his opening statement. “Congress and the Biden Administration have taken preliminary steps to clarify the epidemic of missing and murdered women and color. Savanna’s Act, the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act, and the Ashanti Alert Act were enacted into law. The Administration has implemented executive orders directing Department-by-Department initiatives that could go far towards addressing the systemic underservice and cycles of poverty driving the plague of missing and murdered women in communities of color. But we have more work to do.”
“Women of color who go missing or who are victims of crime are also not getting the assistance and attention they deserve,” Chairwoman Maloney said in her opening statement. “In addition to the demographic information that is clearly lacking, there’s likely additional data we should be routinely collecting and examining. More information on who is going missing, the communities they belong to, and what happened to them will help us direct the resources and attention necessary to better serve women of color who may be at risk.”
“The issue of missing Black, Brown, and Indigenous women and girls in America is truly an epidemic, and critically important to me,” Rep. Kelly said in her opening statement. “This is why I introduced the Protect Black Women and Girls Act. This bipartisan bill would establish an Interagency Task Force to examine the conditions and experiences of Black women and girls in the United States and inform policy makers on how we can better respond to this epidemic.”
The Subcommittee heard testimony from Natalie Wilson, Founder of the Black and Missing Foundation; Angel Charley, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women; John E. Bischoff, III, Vice President of the Missing Children Division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; Pamela Foster, the mother of a missing child; Shawn Wilkinson, the father of a missing child; and Patrice Onwuka, Director of the Center for Economic Opportunity at the Independent Women’s Forum.
Members and witnesses described factors driving disproportionately high rates of missing Black, Brown, and Indigenous women and girls, and emphasized the need for more accurate and complete data to fully understand the problem.
- Ms. Wilson highlighted current data gaps, saying: “The data available is not robust or reliable to paint a full picture of the magnitude of the problem. We believe the numbers are much higher.” She continued, “All missing Latinos are being classified as white although research has shown at least 24% classify themselves as Afro-Latino, otherwise identifying as Black. Immigrants don’t always report their missing because of fear of deportation. No one is keeping track of the whereabouts of those who are homeless, in foster care or part of the social services system.”
- Ms. Charley testified, “We know it is not ‘if’ a Native woman will experience violence in her lifetime, it is ‘when;’ more than 85% of our women will experience it, and more than half of that will be sexual violence. Yet prosecution is declined in more than a third of cases by the United States Attorney’s Office. It is the complexity of jurisdiction, the historic lack of prioritizing adequate and necessary funding, and systemic racism that continues to fuel the crisis” of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
- In response to a question from Chairwoman Maloney about outcomes when children go missing, Mr. Bischoff explained: “In working with social service children in care, that is one of the gap areas we are trying to improve. At times, we don’t receive the recovery information although our case managers work daily to receive it because we know that information is valuable.”
Witnesses explained that Black, Brown, and Indigenous women and girls not only receive less attention from law enforcement and the media but are also often afforded less empathy and viewed as responsible for their circumstances.
- In response to a question from Congresswoman Norton, Ms. Wilson testified: “Black and brown girls are not seen as victims, and oftentimes they are ‘adultified.’ The perception is that whatever happens to them, they deserve. And because they come from a poor, impoverished or marginalized community, that sort of deviant behavior is acceptable. At the Black and Missing Foundation, we are trying to change that narrative—that these are mothers and daughters and granddaughters that are missing at an alarming rate.”
- When asked about the law enforcement response to her daughter’s abduction, Ms. Foster stated: “I was in shock, and I reached out to law enforcement. And the communication between law enforcement and myself was little to none. And trying to get word out that an abduction had occurred became difficult because the resources on the reservation were none. And so, I had to reach out to social media on Facebook and make a report or post that my children had been abducted.”
Members and witnesses discussed ways to address this epidemic, including action by Congress and closer coordination between law enforcement and affected communities.
- Rep. Kelly highlighted the recently announced Senate compromise on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and asked Ms. Charley about the potential impact of closing jurisdictional gaps on tribal lands. Ms. Charley explained, “Right now, the majority of Tribes throughout the United States are not able to prosecute non-Native offenders. What that means is that someone who is not Tribal can come onto Tribal land, commit these crimes, and not be held accountable through the Tribal judicial system. What the new iteration of VAWA does is allow Tribes to have expansive jurisdiction on some of these issues, including trafficking, stalking, and sexual violence. It is through the Violence Against Women Act and the Tribal Law and Order Act that we seek justice for our own communities.”
- Mr. Wilkinson testified that “monies towards training advocates in the areas of media relations, community relations, cultural relations and family assistance” would help address the existing gaps in information and services. He also asked that “a National Standard Operating Process for missing people be provided, instead of each level or area of law enforcement having their own.”
- In response to a question from Rep. Kelly about potential focus areas for the interagency task force that would be created by her bill, the Protect Black Women and Girls Act, Ms. Wilson responded: “There’s so many issues or reasons why people of color are reported missing, or going missing—economics, housing, there’s so many systemic issues. I think that we can just pick one, really, and just delve deeper into it, but it’s also about education and having the resources needed within our community so that we can protect those that are most vulnerable.”