On January 15th, Toni Anderson disappeared.

Toni, a college student at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, left work at 4:30 am and was pulled over on US Highway 40 by a police officer immediately afterwards. She told the officer that she was nearly out of gas and he directed her to the nearest QuikTrip. This remains the last place she was seen.

Toni was a vibrant, beautiful, social young woman. I can personally attest to this, because I went to high school with her at East High in Wichita, KS. She was beloved by many, but especially her boyfriend Pete Sanchez, who moved with her to Kansas City. After the police initially refused to investigate and the media refused to tell her story, Sanchez took to social media, using the hashtag #BringToniHome to promote awareness and urge people to come forward with information, and raised money for a private investigator through GoFundMe.

missing-toni-anderson-kansas-city-1

Eventually, both the police and the media got involved. However, the media did more to damage Toni’s reputation and divert sympathy by emphasizing her occupation—waitressing at Chrome, a gentleman’s club—and using sexualized photographs.

toni

Headlines wreaked havoc, including “missing strip club worker Toni Anderson” and simply “strip club waitress.” The photographs used were highly sexualized, showing her with heavy makeup, selfies taken at an angle where her cleavage is emphasized, or even photographs in her bikini.

Of course, it is necessary to list Chrome as one of the last places she was seen, the attention the media gave to her job and appearance was overwhelming!

Why would the media emphasize her job at Chrome and use oversexualizing photographs? To paint it as somehow her fault that she went missing, as is typical with slut-shaming sexual assault/rape victims, and decrease sympathy for the “unsavory character.”

Sanchez himself complained that many different media outlets tried to portray her as an “exotic dancer,” and loathes the label. By making Toni into just another stripper gone missing, by removing her name, the media dehumanizes her, making it difficult to garner support. It makes it difficult to find her.

While attention is directed at her occupation, it is drawn away from the puzzling text: her last words. At 4:42 am, Toni sent the following to a friend:

“Omg just got pulled over again”

What is perplexing is not the fact that she got pulled over, because police officers stepped forward and told of their interaction with Toni. What is perplexing is the word “again.” She had not recently been pulled over at all, making people wonder: Was she pulled over a second time that morning?

It is a common trick for traffickers to use fake lights and pretend to be cops, pulling over beautiful young women to force them into the sex industry against their willing. Toni, as a waitress at a strip club, was more likely to become a sex trafficking victim. Moreover, the highway she was on, especially at the early, unpopulated time she was driving, made it exponentially easier for traffickers to kidnap victims and never be seen again.

In fact, this is what Toni’s parents believe has happened. Because the search for Toni has been so extensive and thorough, many believe that she has been taken out of the country, specifically by human traffickers.

Unfortunately, this seems highly likely. Who knows whether Toni will ever be seen again or not?

What we do know is that if the images used for Toni had not been so sexualized, if the emphasis had been on her personality, her humanity, rather than on her slut-shamed occupation, then maybe people would have taken this more seriously. Maybe there would have been more sympathy and support. Maybe if we had been focused in the right place, then Toni would be home.

Hopefully it’s not too late.

 

Sources:

“Boyfriend of missing UMKC student using social media to #BringToniHome” KMBC News. http://www.kmbc.com/article/boyfriend-of-missing-umkc-student-using-social-media-to-bringtonihome/8613882

Castro, Monica. “Family believe missing student victim of human trafficking.” KAKE News. http://www.kake.com/story/34628936/family-believe-missing-student-victim-of-human-trafficking

Haze, Meko. “Missouri police are not allowed to release video footage of Toni Anderson due to Missouri State Law.” The Daily Haze. http://thedailyhaze.com/police-footage-missing-toni-anderson/

Schram, Jamie. “Strip club waitress vanishes after getting pulled over.” New York Post. http://nypost.com/2017/01/18/strip-club-waitress-vanishes-after-getting-pulled-over/

“Toni Anderson: 5 fast facts you need to know” Heavy. http://heavy.com/news/2017/01/toni-anderson-wichita-kansas-city-missouri-missing-umkc-photos-boyfriend-pete-sanchez-facebook-twitter-instagram-text-pulled-over/

Trost, Rachael. “Few answers in disappearance of Toni Anderson after strange text message.” NBC News. http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/missing-in-america/few-answers-disappearance-pf-toni-anderson-after-strange-text-message-n717286

Warren, David. “20-year-old college student disappears shortly after traffic stop.” Wall Street OTC.  http://www.wallstreetotc.com/college-student/226356/