While we live in an age where anything can be videotaped, photographed and instantly shared — a 19-year-old girl can be murdered in the privacy of a hotel building without anyone knowing how or why she died. A 19-year-old Black woman named Kenneka Jenkins. And yes, the fact that she is Black matters.
There is little to no information officially released regarding the investigation surrounding Jenkins’ death. Instead, many articles are expressing the frustration of Jenkins’ family that has repeatedly complained that there is not enough being done for their child’s untimely death.
This young woman went to a hotel to meet her friends on a Friday night and died. Yet authorities prolonged the investigation by shuffling the parents around, requiring them to fill out various paperwork before a search for Kenneka even began. Approximately 48 hours into the investigation, Jenkins’ body was found in a freezer in the hotel building. This is something that could have happened to nearly any one. It was not in an abandoned warehouse, it was not in someone’s house — it was in a hotel building, where hundreds of people enter and exit every day, putting faith in the staff to maintain a level of safety and privacy.
There is no public outcry, there are no protests and there is no reform or consequence for the staff of the hotel or the officials in charge of Jenkins’s investigation. And why is that? Because women dying of homicide is a tragically common cause of death. Women dying violent and untimely deaths is becoming normalized and Kenneka Jenkins is just one example. The Jenkins family strongly believes that because Kenneka was Black, her investigation was not taken as seriously as it should have been.
She had been attending a party in one of the hotel rooms hosted by individuals Kenneka considered friends. There was a single video uploaded to Facebook earlier that evening during the event. Kenneka could be roughly seen in the video, but there was no clear indication from the video that at that point Kenneka was in any harm. It was understood that there was alcohol and potentially other substances present at the party. When the authorities became aware of this, the most popular of theories for Kenneka’s death became that she trapped herself into the freezer by accident while drunk or under the influence of a substance. Immediately, the victim-blaming accelerated. When the information became public, others contributed to these theories and focused on things Kenneka could have done differently in order to prevent her death.
The very concept of victim-blaming is psychologically scarring to survivors and detracts from the seriousness of the crime. Statistically, victim-blaming falls upon the shoulders of women much more often than men. In instances such as sexual assault, domestic violence and homicide cases, actions of the women prior to the crime are scrutinized. The woman is criticized for what she wore, her hair, makeup and overall physical appearance. The woman is criticized for the neighborhood or environment she chose to put herself in, the drink she chose and every decision she made that lead up to her suffering.
On June 18, 2017 a 17-year-old girl Nabra Hassanen was raped and murdered by a man named Darwin Martinez Torres. She was with her friends, walking alongside a road by a fast-food restaurant when Torres exited his vehicle with a baseball bat and attacked Hassanen’s group of friends. While her friends were able to escape, Hassanen tripped and fell. Torres then kidnapped Hassanen, beat, raped and killed her before throwing her body into a pond. She had just completed her second year of high school. She was an innocent young woman enjoying time out with her friends.
Yet, while some expressed their extreme disgust towards what happened to her, others blamed Hassanen. They blamed her for wearing a hijab, the Muslim headscarf, they blamed her and her friends for being out at night. They blamed the group for not obeying whatever Torres asked of them. There were more fingers being pointed at the victim than the vile man who was capable of doing this to another human being.
There are many reasons as to why Nabra and Kenneka’s deaths have not received justice, a primary one being that both were women of color. To be preyed upon and targeted knowing that the country you live in systematically suppresses your rights as a human being leaves a person defenseless. And vulnerable to perpetrators to take advantage of this broken link.