Niagara University’s Office of Violence Prevention and Education hosted nationally renowned criminologist Danielle Slakoff, Ph.D., on Oct. 21 to present her work on the relationship between the media, intimate partner violence, and identity.
Basing her presentation on the case of Gabby Petito, who was killed by strangulation in August 2021 by her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, Dr. Slakoff, an assistant professor of criminal justice at California State University, Sacramento, examined the disparate media representations of Black, white, and Indigenous women and girl victims.
Despite the fact that Black and Indigenous women and girls go missing more often than do white females, there is significantly more and repeated media coverage of missing white women and girls, Dr. Slakoff said, pointing out that, in Petito’s case, CNN mentioned her name 1,500 times in one month. When the media does cover missing women and girls of color, she said, the stories often place the blame on them or focus on their professions.
Dr. Slakoff noted that there are a handful of studies that confirm the existence of the “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” a term coined by PBS newscaster Gwen Ifill that refers to the mainstream media's seeming fascination with covering missing or endangered white women, and its seeming disinterest in cases involving missing people of color. She cited those by Zach Sommers in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology; Jeanis et al, which analyzed disparities in mentions on social media; and her own research with Henry F. Fradella, which looked at how the “Missing White Woman Syndrome” and other factors influenced newsworthiness.
Dr. Slakoff also discussed the importance of recognizing strangulation as a risk factor for intimate partner homicide, in addition to prior abuse, threats of violence, stalking and other controlling behaviors, and weapons within the household. She noted that people who have been strangled are seven times more likely to be killed by their partners, and that 10 times more women report being strangled by their abuser than men. She also dispelled the myth that strangulation is typically committed by someone who has “snapped.”
“It actually takes four to five minutes to kill someone this way,” she said. “It is a very, very brutal, very violent, and very personal form of intimate partner violence.”
Dr. Slakoff’s research can be found in journals such as Violence Against Women, Feminist Criminology, and Race and Justice. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, and on the nationally syndicated Tamron Hall Show.
Niagara University’s Office of Violence Prevention & Education is a grant program funded by the Department of Justice. The Campus Program was created to assist colleges and universities in building effective, comprehensive responses to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking for students, staff, and faculty