- Miya Marcano, a Caribbean-American college student, went missing days after Gabby Petito.
- The two cases have drawn comparisons – with critics noting the disparate media coverage.
- Experts are calling for systemic solutions to combat the epidemic of deadly violence against women.
Miya Marcano went missing less than a week after Gabby Petito – the 22-year-old travel influencer whose disappearance and murder by her boyfriend captured headlines for weeks.
Despite similarities in age, Florida residency, and similar, tragic fates, the two cases have drawn comparisons – with critics noting the disparate media coverage Marcano and the thousands of women of color who go missing each year receive.
“In the context around Missing White Woman Syndrome, we’re definitely seeing more cases of women of color getting more attention,” Danielle Slakoff, an assistant professor at Sacramento State whose research focuses on media portrayals of women and girls as victims/offenders, told Insider.
“The question is: is this going to continue or is this going to be a short-term trend?” she added.
Taken side-by-side, the Caribbean-American college student’s abduction and murder by a maintenance worker and Petito’s death are provoking calls to amplify the stories of women of color omitted from most mainstream media coverage and combat the epidemic of deadly violence against women.
Marcano was reportedly repeatedly harassed by the suspect
Marcano, a 19-year-old student at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, had been missing since Sept. 24, before authorities found what they believed to be her body over the weekend.
Authorities named Armando Manuel Caballero, a maintenance worker at the Arden Villas apartments where Marcano lived and worked.He was found dead from an apparent suicide on Sept. 27.
Caballero’s cell phone records led authorities to the area where the body believed to be Marcano’s was discovered.
According to authorities, Caballero had expressed interest in Marcano, but she “repeatedly rebuffed” his advances – a detail experts say highlights how pervasive sexual harassment is and the necessity of greater education for boys and men that “no means no.”
“It’s about safety and not even being able to guarantee our safety in our own homes,” Kristin Riddle, founder of Check the Vibes Magazine, a culture magazine that provides resources to help people of color travel safely, told Insider.
“Miya did everything right. She did what we’re all told: ‘just keep walking,’ ‘say no,’ but that’s not what’s going to fix everything. Her saying no was fatal.”
Experts and advocates say sexual harassment has been normalized
Eunique Jones Gibson, founder of Because of Them We Can – a media platform dedicated to telling stories about Black communities – told Insider that sexual harassment is so common, it’s been normalized, and the marginalization and misogynoir Black women face has only made her more determined to “speak up” against it.
“As a Black woman, I have to speak up,” Jones Gibson said. “There isn’t an option not to, because this is something I’ve dealt with that I don’t want my daughter dealing with.”
“I know what it’s like to have a man express interest and then to play multiple scenarios over in my head about how I decline their advance, or in a way that won’t anger or upset them or cause them to do something crazy.”
Jones Gibson added she’s heard countless horror stories, recalling an instance when she was walking home after a college internship when a car “full of guys” pulled up and started driving alongside her.
“The guy kept saying ‘hey girl, hey girl, hey girl,’ and I ignored him,” Jones Gibson recalled. “He pulled the car over and started to curse at me and ask me if I heard him talking to me . “
“It was just the sense of entitlement in that moment that made me realize I had to be careful everytime I go out,” she said.
—🟣 Eunique’s Playing #CultureTags (@eunique) October 2, 2021
Jones Gibson emphasizes the need of teaching young boys that “no means no” and the lack of a “confident or enthusiastic yes” means no.
As some of the media coverage has focused on Miya’s rebuffs of Caballero’s advances, Slakoff urges people not to “victim-blame” her — especially since reporting stalking and harassment is incredibly difficult.
“Miya had the right to say no to this person and no is a complete sentence,” Slakoff said, adding that research suggests that people who are stalked “often feel like they have no way to stop it because unless something physical happens, it can be difficult to get the police involved.”
“They tell people who are experiencing this to document everything, but it’s so difficult because they’re already really scared and you’re asking someone who’s already scared and potentially in danger to go through this step of documenting everything,” Slakoff explained.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 81% of US women have reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime.
Such sexual harassment and assault can lead to fatalities.
Per the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 70% of murder-suicides involve an intimate-partner and nearly 95% of victims of murder-suicides are women.
Though gender-based violence cuts across racial, social, and economic lines, data suggests that women of color, particularly Black women, are disproportionately affected by it.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research stated that Black women face higher rates of intimate partner violence with more than four in 10 Black women facing this kind of violence throughout their lifetimes.
A 2014 report from the CDC reaffirms these findings; per the report, nearly 25% of American Indian/Alaska Native women, approximately 22% of multiracial women, and about 16% of non-Hispanic white women experienced stalking at some point in their lives.
For experts, Marcano’s case only underscores the ramifications of living in a society rife with misogyny and femicide.
“I am not surprised [by Marcano’s case], but I’m enraged that this keeps happening,” Iris Cardenas, a PhD candidate at Rutgers University whose research in part focuses on intimate partner violence in Latino communities. “We need to keep asking ourselves why this keeps happening again and again.”
Marcano’s death sparks increase calls for legislative reform
Beyond sparking conversation about how society deals with gender violence, Marcano’s story has also inspired discussions about enacting greater restrictions limiting maintenance and landlord’s access to rented properties.
Since her disappearance, the apartment complex in which she lived announced it was changing its safety procedures to now include a guard stationed at its front gate. The apartment’s maintenance staff is now working on an appointment-only basis.
“I would not be surprised at all to see some of these apartment complexes changing protocols and master keys changing,” Slakoff said. “And I think that’s an important step, but I think in a broader context, this is a case of stalking and harassment and has to be addressed as such.”
—Stephanie. (@stephanie_hinds) September 28, 2021
Often this guidance -including instructing women to watch their drinks at a bar or wear specific clothing – positions women’s safety as an issue that only women should or can fix and takes the responsibility away from men.
Experts like Cardenas stress that it shouldn’t just be reliant on women to protect their safety.
“We blame the women for not speaking up or not looking for help, but it’s not them,” Cardenas told Insider. “It’s a community effort.”
This line of thinking is also erroneous because even when women ask for help or report sexual harassment, they are not always taken seriously, as evinced by Petito, who was dismissed by law enforcement weeks before she went missing and was found dead.
Despite one bystander’s 911 calling to report Laundrie “slapping” Petito ,and another that Laundrie appeared to be attempting to take Petito’s phone and take off without her, law enforcement deemed Petito the perpetrator of violence when responding to the incident.
While Petito and Marcano are not the only women who’ve gone missing in recent weeks, the similarity of their cases is not lost on experts.
Many say that the preventable deaths of these two Florida women not only underscores the racial politics of media and law enforcement, but also amplifies the pervasive rape culture and misogyny that influenced their fates.
“Even Gabby Petito’s father said ‘hey, thank you for what you’ve done for Gabby, but I pray you devote this same kind of coverage for other missing women,'” Riddle said. “We have two prominent, horrific, tragic cases right now and they’re both of young women, so what are we going to do right now to have reform?”
In addition to more sustained media coverage of missing women – particularly women of color – experts say that efforts need to be focused on prevention of this violence. Such efforts include early education and legislation that protects women.
“Changes are needed to protect our girls and our communities,” Cardenas said. “We need to not forget.”