Settlement Guide

Settlement Guide: what to do when someone goes missing?

Source: Australia government

Every hour four people go missing in Australia. While most are found, the disappearance of one person can affect the lives of 12 others - according to the National Missing Persons Coordination Center. This year's National Missing Persons Week (31 July - 6 August) aims to raise awareness about the impacts on families and communities when a loved-one goes missing.

"Missing persons leave frayed edges, Stay connected" is the key message of this year's campaign. While 35,000 people go missing every year in Australia, it rarely raises public interest. Helen Cheong felt the same way about missing persons until her sister, Sally disappeared in 2008.

 

Every hour four people go missing in Australia 


"Before Sally disappeared I have never thought about missing persons. It really wasn't something that was on the top priority list or even knowing about missing persons. When Sally did go missing, I just couldn't believe that it happened to us, it does feel hard."

As soon as you feel concerned about the whereabouts of a person, you should report it to the police

 


Rebecca Klotz from the National Missing Persons Coordination Center (NMPCC) says the impacts on family and friends of missing persons often include health consequences and financial costs. She says as soon as you feel concerned about the whereabouts of a person, you should report it to the police.

"If you do have those serious concerns we ask people, we invite people to go straight to the police. Get the police on the investigation as soon as possible, if the worst thing that happens is that they find the person safe and well, then so be it."

Police are aware of the difficulties culturally and linguistically diverse communities face when dealing with reporting missing persons


The NMPCC says police are aware of the difficulties culturally and linguistically diverse communities face when dealing with reporting missing persons. Ms Klotz says the NMPCC has developed basic fact sheets in 14 different languages to raise awareness and to reach those communities.

Some people may not want to go to the police about a missing person

 
"It is quite an issue within culturally and linguistically diverse communities that there may be some hesitation to deal with police or to confront police or to approach police about these matters.  And that's why we have partnered if you like with SBS this year also developing those basic fact sheets so that we could reach out to those communities and make them aware that we are there to help."


Some people may not want to go to the police about a missing person. Ms Klotz says it could be because they've had a negative experience or general mistrust of the police in their country of origin.

In Australia police authority figures are very much trustworthy and they're here to help us and keep the community safe


"It could be the country they are from and the connections they have with authority figures in their own country it might not have been of good faith or one that they trusted. In Australia police authority figures are very much trustworthy and they're here to help us and keep the community safe and it's not to say that it doesn't happen in other countries but it maybe the different experience that they've had."


Helen Cheong's family migrated to Australia from Hong Kong when she was a child. From her experience she says children in other families had more freedom than hers.

Around half of those who go missing are thought to be unintentionally missing - who avoided telling anyone their whereabouts


"When I want to go over to my friends place when I was a kid, it was always no, but then other kids with their parents would just say yes all the time and I used to get very jealous."


After her sister Sally went missing, she noticed her parents changed their views.

"Back then my parents were probably a bit more conservative, like restrictive. Didn't really appreciate us staying up late and partying till 2 am or not coming home for dinner. But after the event it's assumed that they realised how much they controlled us and they did free up the way they viewed life and tried to enjoy it a bit more, spend more time with us. Certainly they did a lot of things to try to avoid it happening ever again. Because they really saw what damage you could do to someone like my sister Sally."

Communication is crucial to staying connected with family and friends


According to the NMPCC's data, around half of those who go missing are thought to be unintentionally missing - who avoided telling anyone their whereabouts. Helen Cheong says communication is crucial to staying connected with family and friends.

Eight years since her sister Sally disappeared, Helen Cheong is still looking for her


"From the experience what I saw and learnt from it is that it's very important to stay connected and from the outsets someone may appear to be having a happy life, but realistically they could be going through a whole raft of issues and that opened me up to this feeling of always needing to ask if someone is ok."

 

Create awareness and put it out there and hope that someone does see her face or she sees it and that she'll return


Eight years since her sister Sally disappeared, Helen Cheong is still looking for her. She is still talking about her sister in the hope she'll be found.

"It is kind of a cold case right now because there is not much lead to go off. I guess the only thing you can do is to create awareness and put it out there and hope that someone does see her face or she sees it and that she'll return."

Missing people leave frayed edges


Rebecca Klotz from NMPCCC says communication within family, friends and the wider community is key.
If people are concerned about those around them, she urges people to discuss it before the person may go missing.

   
"In our community behind every missing person there is a family, there is friends, there is work colleagues, there is community, what we're asking people to do is being on the lookout for these people. Missing people leave frayed edges we want people to stay connected and if that means the community staying connected around concerns they have with regards to people in their community than let's do it."

Stay connected


Fact sheets are available in 14 different languages.  For more information visit the missing persons website.
Freecall 1800 000 634. If you need an interpreter contact TIS National Services on 13 14 50.