September 20, 2014

Gone Girls: When Women Go Missing in our own Backyards & How to Prevent It.


One of the many hats that I wear is that of a syndicated movie reviewer.

(I write 90 second movie reviews which air on several public radio stations.)

Like many people, I am eagerly looking forward to the October 3rd release, Gone Girl. The movie, which is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, has already created significant buzz due to the teaser trailers that have been released and the announcement that the movie’s ending is different than that of the novel.

(Without giving away any spoilers, I happen to be one of those who thought the latter’s ending worked quite well with the overall theme of the novel.)

However, Gone Girl has come a few weeks early to the town where I live. Unlike the movie, though, no one knows the ending. No one can walk away taking comfort that at least none of the characters are real because unlike the movie, the incidents I am referring to are all too real.

Specifically, they concern the disappearance of second year University of Virginia undergraduate, Hannah Graham, who has been missing since Sunday, September 14th. Already, the case has received major national and international coverage especially in the UK. (Graham and her parents are British citizens.)

Graham is actually the 5th young woman who has gone missing in the Charlottesville area since 2009. While the police are saying there is no evidence to connect any of the disappearances, the mother of one of them, Morgan Harrington (whose remains were later found on a farm outside of town), says, “Obviously they are not all connected, but it doesn’t seem normal. There’s either some connection of a serial predator or a crime spree gone crazy.”

Whether she is correct or not, even the disappearance of one person where I live is disturbing.

At the very least, it reminds me that even small, “nice” places to live are not without their dangers.

Secondly, it’s a painful reminder of how many people go missing each year in America. While the disappearance of children and young women tend to get the most media attention, the fact is thousands of people of all kinds—young, old, male, female, etc.—go missing each year.

While the majority of missing person cases are resolved, some are not. Some cases remain unsolved indefinitely. (Think of the infamous Jimmy Hoffa case.) However, as a woman and a parent, the cases of missing women always strike a nerve with me. Although my daughter is still very young, it reminds me that there will never be a time, not even when she is an adult, that I will stop worrying about her safety.

Also, the fact that women are more likely to be abducted than men is a reminder that just by being a woman—even one who is pushing 40—I am still not completely safe either.

At various local news sites, there has been some criticism of the University of Virginia campus police for not “doing enough.” Frankly, I think this is misguided. As several have pointed out, Graham lived off-campus and was on her way to an off-campus party when she disappeared. (Surveillance footage of Graham on that night shows she was at various local places around town.)

Also, just thinking back to when I was that age, there is a feeling that of invincibility or a sense that nothing bad can possibly happen. I certainly felt that way, and that was before the day when everyone had a cellphone.

Indeed, cellphones, GPS devices, and the increasing use of surveillance cameras have gone a long way to adding to that false sense of security. Many people grumble that nowadays it is impossible to disappear. However, as the Graham case and others show, it is still possible for a person to seemingly disappear into thin air.

Furthermore, the role that alcohol often plays in many disappearances cannot be ignored. It’s not blaming the victim when the police mention that Graham appeared to be “heavily intoxicated” the night she disappeared. While we should live in a society where no one, including those who are drunk, should not have to fear being a possible abduction victim, the fact is it makes it far more likely for a predator to catch a would-be target.

Of course, we still do not know if Graham was abducted, much less where she is. My hope is for a happy ending where she is found safe and alive. However, even if that is not the case, I hope a lesson will be learned to help prevent other situations like this.

None of us should live in constant fear that we may end up missing, but it is a good idea to rely on the old-fashioned buddy system whenever we are going out alone and/or in the case of many single 20 somethings and beyond, just away for a long day trip or weekend by ourselves. A simple text message can be enough to suffice. Also, if we are on the receiving end, we need to remind ourselves we are not being busy bodies or sticking our nose in other people’s business if we notice they are missing for extended periods of time or do not show up to appointments.

I intend to pass that message on to my own daughter by setting that example myself. (Truth be told, despite being married and a mother, I often do not tell people where I am going and just say, “I am going out.”)

No one should ever have to go through the agony that Graham’s parents, friends, and loved ones are surely going through right now.

Hopefully, she and other gone girls will be found girls, sooner rather than later.



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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Vigil for Hannah Graham



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