by Darlene Nelson

Recently I was searching for a photographer and found the website for DreamSpeed Photography and owner, Cindy Goff. Initially, as I searched the site, I saw a blog article for a woman, Sharon Blankenbeckler, who was murdered in Virginia in 1977. As I looked at the accompanying photograph of Sharon, I saw a sweet, typical, 1970s Marcia Brady type, all-American girl.

I sat reading the story of her disappearance in a Kmart parking lot, and I pondered: How many people were touched by this young woman when she was alive? How many were touched by her untimely death? I further wondered: Has she now been forgotten by law enforcement? Is it only my romanticized brain that thinks there might be one person out there in the world that is still trying to solve this murder? Worse yet, my thoughts went to this: Has the man who abducted her gotten away scot-free? Or could he have been brought to justice for an unrelated crime? Or might he be living amongst us today?

I began to think of more recent national new stories of missing women. A list grew in my mind: Natalie Holloway, Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy. Quickly I realized they came to the forefront of my mind because even years after their disappearances and deaths, they are remembered—and not just in passing, but as the subject of movies, books, and ongoing media attention. I began to ponder why this is the case when Sharon Blankenbeckler’s murder remains unsolved.

Suddenly, my mind whirled, realizing for the first time in my life that only certain types of women’s vanishings catch the national media spotlight. I sat in silence, staring at my computer screen. It goes without saying that any victim of a crime deserves justice. But just as readily, I realized those that are searched for on a national level are from a specific demographic; bright eyes, perfect smiles, Caucasian, and under the age of 30. Think that through for a moment. If, God forbid, anything happened to you, do you fit that demographic?

My question becomes: When did the media begin to prescribe what makes a woman’s tragedy worthy of search and rescue or not?

What about the women who have been forgotten, their lives and families shattered, their images never seen? Still thinking…and I can’t recall a single woman of Asian, African-American, Latin, or Native American descent who has been afforded the same amount of news coverage as a youthful white woman. Can you?

Consider the expression “A picture is worth a thousand words.” If this is true, the absence of pictures (or any significant attention) of women of color—or any reportedly missing female who doesn’t fit the demographic noted above—ironically speaks volumes. You don’t see them on the news, although you might occasionally glance and see them in passing on a roadside billboard, random website, or post office walls. But you have to be looking to notice. And I am noticing.

Recent sightings:

At a roadside park in Tennessee, I saw 8″x10″ posters taped in the women’s restroom. They were alerting travelers to the alarming rate of sex trafficking in the state.

After expressing my dismay at the national media regarding missing women, a friend pointed out an organization, Save The Next Girl, aimed at educating young women to prevent crime. The organization was created by the family of 20-year-old Morgan Harrington, who had been abducted. Morgan was the same age as Sharon Blankenbeckler when she was abducted and murdered. As I looked at her photo, I saw another sweet, typical face. The difference is that with the changing times, her memory is not disappearing quietly, thanks to social media. In her memory, her family has created this website:

I dare to picture the day when women and children can live freely and not have to look over their shoulders for potential danger. In the interim, I am thankful for the people who taught me to safeguard myself—a friend’s mother, who warned us as teenagers always to look under the car and in the back seat before we hopped in at night. I can’t forget the lesson from a particular episode of a 1980s TV show, The Facts of Life, that was set in a girl’s boarding school. One of the characters was attacked walking home from a party at night, and safety became crucial. The TV show has long been off the air, but the advice spans time:

“At night, ask someone to walk with you, or stick with a group. Stay on a well-lit path, avoid short cuts. Stay alert for strangers and suspicious activity. And remember that small objects, such as car keys and pens, can be used as weapons.”

Don’t disregard the pictures and signs. Stay alert, Stay safe.

Darlene Nelson, Dreamspeed PhotographyDarlene Nelson owner of web site created with the aim of empowering women’s voices.