Without a Trace: Acknowledging the Epidemic of Missing Black Women in the U.S.

by Ariel C. Williams

For the women who’ve been kidnapped, abused, or killed due to gender-based violence: We speak to honor you.

Statistics show that every nine seconds in the U.S., a woman is assaulted or beaten. Even more horrifying, more than three women are murdered by their partners every day in the U.S. More times than not, children of victims are present when their mothers are abused and stand a greater chance at abusing others or becoming victims themselves in adulthood. Carrying the memories of watching their mothers being verbally, mentally, emotionally and physically abused is a heavy toll that no child should have to endure, yet it happens every day in this country.

While critics dragged the film, Jennifer Lopez triumphantly told a familiar story of a woman who’d victimized by her husband’s abuse—and who ultimately confronts him to protect herself and her daughter—in the 2002 drama Enough. More films and conversations like these need to be had for awareness’ sake, but not without making reference to the thousands of Black women who go missing and are not found in the U.S. every year. According to the National Crime Information Center, more than 270,000 minorities have been reported missing since 2010, with almost half of that number comprised of Black Americans and roughly 64,000 being Black girls and women.

Gone without a trace and no apparent reason for their disappearance, these girls and women are mourned by confused family members and friends who often face difficulty gaining empathetic media attention for these victims. Due to stereotypes, their being Black automatically ties their disappearance to criminally related activity, thus considering them runaways or a lesser priority when it comes to investigating their cases. However, many cases reveal that prior to these women vanishing, they were last seen or had contact with a man who is more than responsible for or knows of their whereabouts.

The Daily Mail shared that most women disappear in the states of New York, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Florida. Approximately five weeks ago, 39-year-old Keyanta Catrice Williams went missing in Florida and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. The divorced mother of four was last seen on February 9, 2015, moments before leaving her home to purchase gasoline. According to the police report, Williams was meeting with a truck driver she met on a dating site the night prior. Her date’s alibi checked out, removing him from the authorities’ list of suspects; however, her estranged boyfriend may not be so innocent.

Upon returning home from her date around 5:00 AM the next morning, Williams and her live-in boyfriend Kelvin Bryant, 41, got into an argument. She told her youngest son that she’d take him to school after filling up her Dodge Journey, but never returned. Moments after she left her townhouse, Bryant left on foot making it the last time he was seen there too. Within two days, Bryant was arrested for grand theft of Williams’ vehicle, which was later found drenched in blood. There is no other evidence of foul play, but the fact that he refuses to discuss her whereabouts without an attorney present deepens the fears and heartbreak of her family.

With a lack of media attention for cases like these—as well as insensitive suspects—how can Black women like Keyanta Williams be found? How many more Black women have to be abducted, and possibly killed, before our stories matter to mainstream America?

Last year, Natallie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, and Avis Jones-DeWeever joined Roland Martin to discuss the lack of awareness and care that exists for missing women of color. There are a host of issues to consider when determining why a woman goes missing—including but not limited to: sex trafficking, domestic violence, and/or their age and mental/physical ability (for example: there have been cases of senior citizens wandering away from their homes and getting lost). Thirty-five percent of Black missing persons are minors whose disappearance may not fall under the Amber Alert, an emergency response system that’s initiated for (a) children under 17 and (b) when a vehicle was involved in the kidnapping. This system doesn’t account for the remaining 65% of missing Black Americans, however, who happen to be women in this country, a point mentioned by Martin.

Wilson mentioned that when 23-year-old Phoenix Coldron of Missouri went missing in 2012, the St. Louis press had no information about her case and didn’t seem interested enough to gather details. Wilson later connected with black online press publication News One to report the story and soon after Coldron’s disappearance began to make headlines.

It is evident that we must continue to advocate for our own when people of color are abducted or killed. Thanks to social media and non-profit organizations like the Black and Missing Foundation, we have a platform to discuss these matters with the intention of bringing back our girls right here in the States.

The devastating news of missing Florida woman Keyanta Williams unearthed me. Having her case quickly escalate to a homicide investigation constantly reminds us that even in desperate times, men who claim to love us are not concerned with our safety or wellbeing. It shows us how hard we have to work to ensure the authorities and media take our cases seriously so that a thorough investigation may follow. It shows us that even with all of our advances in 2015, the lives of Black women are often devalued, leaving us to forever join Sojourner Truth in asking, “Ain’t I a woman?” It shows that regardless of the circumstances, this type of crime within our communities is real and can happen to anyone of us or our family members.

The Black and Missing Foundation’s website is comprised of checklists, phone numbers, and support groups to aid families upon a loved one’s disappearance. Additionally, the United States Department of Agriculture shares kidnapping and hostage survival guidelines that anyone can use.

Keyanta Williams is my first cousin, and like all families who endure tumultuous and devastating events like these, we’ve continued to hold onto the glimmer of hope that she may be alive. Still, it would be remiss of me to ignore the thousands of other missing African-American women and girls, and not disclose best practices on how to handle situations like this in the future. Enough of our sisters have gone missing.

More than ever, we must speak for them now because their lives depend on it.

If you have any information on Keyanta Williams’ disappearance, please contact the Gainesville Police Department at (352) 955-1818. Ask to speak with Officer Art Forgey. Tips can be made anonymously at Crime Stoppers at (352) 372-7867.

Photo: Keyanta Williams, last seen on February 9, 2015

With a mission to help women thrive in life, love and goals, Ariel C. Williams is a writer, virtual consultant and author of go-to eBook The Girl Talk Chronicles: Advice on How to Manage Love, Lust & Situations. She’s waiting to connect with you online as @ArielSaysNow.

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