Posted by: kelsiemccrae | September 29, 2016

Women in Crime: A Follow-up

I recently watched a documentary titled “Who Took Johnny”, which is available to stream on Netflix. After reading Casey’s blog post about women in fictional crime shows, I really thought critically about how women were treated and represented in a real police investigation.  In this case, I was sorely disappointed.

Brief background about the case: Johnny Gosch was abducted on September 5, 1982 while on his paper route in Des Moines, Iowa.  He was 12 years old.  His mother, Noreen Gosch, had to hire private investigators and pursue leads on her own, because the Des Moines Police Department refused to acknowledge that a crime had been committed.  They found evidence to suggest that Johnny had been stalked, abducted, and placed into a trafficking ring.  He remains missing to this day, though his mother believes that he is alive and living in hiding (please see the articles attached for information as to why this is a possibility)

Noreen Gosch immediately emerged as a leader, empowered by her intense desire to find answers and bring her son home.  However, she faced serious pushback from the Des Moines PD.  They refused to take her seriously, largely due to the fact that she she was outspoken and determined to see justice for her son.  Because of the willpower she had for finding her son, Noreen made significant strides in improving the procedures for finding missing children. She wrote the Johnny Gosch Bill, which requires immediate police involvement when a child goes missing. This Bill passed in Iowa and eight additional states. She also testified in front of Congress, which led to the establishment of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She gives speeches and serves as a mentor for families of missing children.  Noreen Gosch’s contributions to her son’s case were much more significant than those made by the Des Moines PD.

The documentary calls to mind a lot of the topics we have discussed in Women and Leadership thus far.  Noreen Gosch has been described as determined and outspoken.  As can be expected,  she was received quite negatively by the male investigators assigned to her son’s case. The police chief even went as far as saying something along the lines of “I don’t gave a damn what Noreen Gosch says” (this was stated in an interview for a newspaper, more details were provided in the documentary). Though she proved herself time and time again to be competent and knowledgable, she was still treated like she couldn’t possibly be right. This might be because she wasn’t considered to be an “expert”, or it might have been because she was a woman making a group of men look bad at their jobs.

If you’ve watched the documentary, or this makes you think of any other instances where a woman has been ignored or disregarded by professionals, please weigh in! I found this to be quite shocking because we now have procedures to be followed in cases like this.  Because of Noreen’s perseverance, cases of missing children are now considered to be the most high profile cases in law enforcement.

Thanks for reading!


Documentary Info:  Who Took Johnny (2014). Directed by David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky, and Suki Hawley. Available on Netflix. Also available for rent or purchase on Amazon Video.

Case Info:






  1. I find this very interesting! I will have to watch this documentary when I have more time. I wonder what would have happened if she wasn’t so direct and outspoken. If she was more “womanly”, timid, or didn’t push so hard would she have been helped? If she was helped and her son was found would this law ever come into practice or how many years later and how many young kids later would have been affected by it. I know that it is terrible that her son is still missing and it could be due to the fact that she was just a woman who was too outspoken. But she has helped so many other kids to do this day, and has a law in place to help other kids. So her outspokenness has most likely helped so many other families. There are always two ways to look at the situation. I do agree that it is terrible her son is still missing. I just wonder where we would be if she wasn’t so direct and she was acting more like a woman “should”!

  2. Good thoughts! To add to what Kaitlyn said, I am also have been interested in what would have happened had it been Johnny’s father or some sort of male figure doing what Noreen Gosch did. No one likes to be told how to do their job, so how much did gender really have to do with it. I also think they dynamic might have changed it the police force had had a strong female presence (I assume that it did not). Could this have influenced how seriously Mrs. Gosch and her case were taken?

  3. I will be watching this documentary tonight after reading the post. I think the police are right to be hesitant about a random adult starting their own investigation. Police and detectives are “experts,” to a degree, since they receive training on how to conduct criminal cases. They were most likely threatened by someone taking the power of the investigation away from them. It would be embarrassing to have a bystander solve the case instead of an officer. I will also argue that a willing citizen could gain insight into a case that a police officer may not since people often mistrust authority figures. I know that if anything ever happened to me, my parents would move mountains to find me.

  4. I think when you have situations like this, you often have cases like this were the parents, especially the moms are ignored. I am not saying I agree with this but often women are too close to a situation and all they want are to bring their children home, regardless of the age. In addition, police officers have to maintain a professional boundary because if they get too emotionally attached to the case it inhibits their ability to look at the case without a bias. Often times too, you have mothers so desperate to find their child that they see somebody that looks like their child, and they want to believe it is them. Police Officers would then have to follow down every instance where this occurred, which would waste resources. It is a very interesting idea, but momma bears should be approached with caution when messing with their cubs

  5. After reading this post I am eager to watch this documentary! In this particular situation, I can only imagine what it takes to stay calm. I love that she didn’t let anything get in her way of searching for her son. No one should be ignored, whether a man or woman, especially after a child is missing.However, I understand that police officers must follow protocol. It is a tough situation to handle. I am amazed to see that she is a mentor to other families and took steps to raise awareness… that is a bold move!

  6. Wow this is crazy! This seems to be a recurring theme within this class and society. Why do we as a society allow men to dictate our lives in so many aspects? I am only imagining how this mother felt about losing her son. Just knowing my mother and how protective and aggressive she gets if anything happens to us, I can only imagine what mine would do if this happened to my siblings or I. I think it is also interesting she became a leader by fulfilling the stereotype of a protective mother. Yes, she was maybe more aggressive than the PD was used to, but wouldn’t we expect most mothers to take charge and search for answers if something happened to their child? Wouldn’t that play into the stereotype of a woman being motherly and concerned for her children above herself? It is interesting to think that maybe being both aggressive and motherly is what allowed her to get the results she wanted. Very interesting, I guess I need to head over and watch the documentary to get more answers! Also yay Kels for an intriguing post!

  7. It would be interesting to see if there is a similar story like this but instead with a father being in Noreen’s position. Just so that there would be a comparison between the two stories to see if there was gender discrimination happening in regards to the way the police were treating her as incompetent when she truly was being competent in the situation. I don’t know if the situation was so much as gender discrimination rather than the pride and the offense taken by the police because of their own incompetency being revealed by Noreen. But in regards to how this affects the leadership of women this kind of attitude (if it was induced by gender discrimination) that men have towards women and even women have towards women would only support more disrespect towards women especially in leadership positions. Why have women been treated so much in our western society as second class citizens in our past history? Where does this generalized idea come from that women are seen as less competent than men?

  8. In response to this part of your post: “Though she proved herself time and time again to be competent and knowledgable, she was still treated like she couldn’t possibly be right. This might be because she wasn’t considered to be an “expert”, or it might have been because she was a woman making a group of men look bad at their jobs.”

    I don’t know if they touched on this in the documentary or anything, but another reason she might have been treated this way is because the police could have thought she was too emotionally invested in the case as a mother. They could have stereotypically thought that her emotional investment would have clouded her judgment. Or they could have possibly just seen her as a hysterical mother who couldn’t think straight till her son was returned to her, which is of course ridiculous. I’ve never seen the documentary, so I don’t really know, I’m just making an assumption here… but it’s still interesting to think about, especially in terms of think about how men, especially men in authority positions, see women when they try to emerge as leaders.

  9. This is an interesting topic because it’s involving not just gender but a systematic negligence. It would be one thing to analyze the situation if, say, Mrs. Gosch were trying to be on the Des Moines police force or in the department. But the story is more than just an overlooked woman, it is about the systematic negligence and failure of a police department. If Mr. Gosch (haven’t seen the film or read the supplemental material, so I’m not sure if there even is a husband) had been ignored and overlooked, then it would appear to be more of an utter failure of the PD to do its job. If his opinions and insights were taken into account more or viewed differently than his wife’s, then it would be a muddier situation. It is amazing, though, that Mrs. Gosch was able to take such despair and tragedy and mend it into such an incredible force such as the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, especially given the fact that she is a woman and this was in the 80s when women weren’t largely accredited for starting organizations, is spectacular.

  10. Wow! This is an amazing story and I wish I could be as dedicated as the mom is. She is a classic example of how working hard and never quitting can lead to amazing things. I think everyone needs to remember this when working on anything. Hard work and never giving up is the way to succeed. This is an inspiring story that I feel like has been passed over until recently. I think it is important to remember that when we think we have it hard as 21st women, that someone before us had it harder.

  11. Just like Chase said, I hope I will be this dedicated of a mother. She is determined and outspoken because her child went missing, and this should never be a negative thing. The fact that she had to deal with a detective who didn’t like her makes me so angry. That detective obviously does not have his priorities together. It is his job to find that child, no matter what. She did a great thing and has helped mothers and fathers and anyone who ever has a child go missing for the future. That is the most important thing out of this instance.

    No matter what the life of a child should be the most important thing, no matter which parent is being outspoken about it. Was she just supposed to shut up and not say anything? People should only view her as a dedicated parent who wants her child back, Period.

  12. I had never heard of this case before, but it’s so interesting to me that the police essentially ignored this mother because they didn’t think a crime had been committed. How did they think the child went missing? I feel like in any situation, no matter who is reporting it, the police should feel obligated to look into missing child cases. Laws shouldn’t have to be passed in order for the police to make finding a missing child their priority. I think it’s really great though that she was able to enact so much change and had a large effect on how police now handle missing child cases.
    As far as thinking of any other instances where a woman has been ignored or disregarded by professionals, what comes to mind is the first republican presidential debate earlier this year (or last year, I can’t remember) with all 16 candidates. Megyn Kelly was one of the mediators, and Trump basically disregarded her in interviews after the debate because she was a woman. He said some pretty negative things about her simply based on her gender and inferred that she was not qualified to mediate the debate because she said things that he didn’t like or didn’t agree with, or that were very honest and he wasn’t happy that she was bringing them up. But I applaud her for the things she said because they were things that needed to be brought to the attention of the American people, even though they clearly didn’t have much of an impact seeing as Trump is the republican presidential nominee.

  13. This is incredbily interesting! When I’ve studied women anc crime in the past, we have always focused on women as victims. This partly because of the prevalence of specific crimes, classified as Violence Against Women, such as rape and sexual assault. For much of history women who were victims of these crimes faced similiar responses. They were treated as if a crime had not occurred and that they had not been victimized. Many women did not report being victimized in this manner because they believed that their local police departments either could not or would not help them. It is fascinating to see how this woman’s story occurred under similiar institutional cirmcumstances, but that she was able to affect positive change for missing children and women in criminal justice.

  14. This made me think of something semi-related to your post. You talked about the perception and treatment of women by the police, but it doesn’t just stop there. I had a friend a while ago who ended up in the court system because of a domestic dispute with her husband. It was honestly a one-time thing, and had a lot of physiological things behind it (there is a good chance his blood sugar had been extremely low, which would mean there was a good chance he couldn’t control his actions–at least, not as much as normal). She was assigned a victim advocate, and the prosecuting attorney was supposed to interview this friend. The last thing she wanted was for her husband to be put on trial, especially since it was a first time offense and it wasn’t a prolonged behavior pattern. He was also the person who supported her, financially and emotionally, and they loved each other a lot. The prosecuting attorney never talked to my friend. Instead, she walked into the courtroom and pushed for the charge to be made into a felony. Afterwards, my friend was livid. She approached the victim advocate and said, “That was NOT what I wanted. That was not justice.”

    I wanted to share this story because my friend is a strong woman. She is one that is a leader in her community, and is incredibly hard-working. Yet, the prosecuting attorney never got her side of the story. After communicating with the attorney, my friend told me that she basically hadn’t talked to her because she didn’t think it mattered. In this line of work, women are often times assumed to be chronic, helpless victims. In some cases that it true, and I in no way want to undermine the effort to help victims of domestic violence. But at the same time, I know that my friend was assumed to be helpless and weak, and it was assumed that she could not speak for herself. So, somebody else did.

    I know that it’s not really the same situation–the person you spoke of was seen as a ball-buster because she would not temper her passion to find her child. However, my friend got the opposite but related way of how people look at women. She was treated with kid gloves and the attorney simply took away her ability to speak up because she thought my friend could not do so. It’s kind of the flip side of the coin: either you are too strong and people hate you, or considered to be too weak (even if you are not), and have your voice taken away.

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