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Picture yourself on a Friday night; it’s been a long week, work’s been tough and now it’s your time to kick back with a few friends and enjoy that long-awaited weekend feeling. You throw back a shot with your “bestie” in celebration of her new promotion, laughing the night away over delicious food, a few beers and good music.
At 11pm the booze kicks in and you decide it’s best to head home. A little fuzzy, but feeling fine, you ping out for an Uber. You head outside for some fresh air, knowing the car’s going to be there in just a few minutes. You close your eyes, take a deep breath and let the weight of the week fall away.
When you open your eyes, it’s lighter than before. There’s a faint smell of damp and you’re surrounded by an unsettling silence – you’re not outside the pub, you’re not on a busy street… you’re in a room. The walls are bare and dirty with only one small, high-set window for the stark daylight to leak through. Where are you? How did you get here? What time is it? Where is everyone else? What happened?
Whether you were spiked, suffered a bout of dementia, had a small black-out or simply fell asleep, you have now found yourself in a position where you are lost, scared and alone.
Every year in Australia, over 35,000 people go missing, with figures not reflecting those who’ve slipped off the radar “unnoticed”. Running away from problems with money, life at home or work; getting lost on a camping trip; suffering dementia and; drug or alcohol abuse are amongst the most common reasons as to how or why people drift off, but added to the mix is also abduction or becoming a victim of another crime such as domestic abuse or even murder.
While Australian authorities are very successful at finding missing persons, with more than 95% of all reported persons being found within just one week, there are currently more than 1,600 people who have been missing for over three months in Australia; a further 429 people listed on the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre’s website and; independent organisations such as Crimestoppers and public forums advertising similar numbers.
The stress, trauma and immense sense of loss that overcomes loved ones, family and friends after a person goes missing is insurmountable, even more so in cases where they are never found. The lack of closure in itself can drive people to do the unthinkable.
So, let’s take another look at that question, “what if it was you?” What would you expect to happen if you found yourself in the sticky situation we touched on earlier? Firstly, someone you know would most likely have called the Police after touching base with the people you were with that night. The Missing Persons Unit would jump on the case and you’ll be found or maybe you’ll escape… but to what? You don’t know where you are.
The truth of the matter is a little more bleak: a person is reported missing in Australia every 15 minutes on average, meaning that the Missing Persons Unit is often inundated, along with State and Federal Police having their hands full with the other “more serious” crimes that they deal with on a daily basis.
If you’re a teen or someone suffering from dementia or other mental illness, you’re statistically more likely to be found considering most of the people you socialise with will have a good understanding of your habits and hangouts, making you easier to track and trace. But what if you’re not under 18 and you don’t suffer from any mental issues?
Recently, Cassie Olczak from Sylvania went missing from her home in Sydney on 25th September of this year and Debra Barbu of Victoria went missing on the same day. Fortunately, Cassie came forward just a few days later after she’d suffered a “mental lapse” following a long flight home from Dubai, while Debra, regrettably, is still to be found.
Together, both women netted just under 2000 shares across Social Media, the majority of which was over Facebook. While that might sound like a lot, let’s review Australia’s top trends at the moment: Formula One is in the lead, with the NRL following closely behind, both of which have had well over 50,000 shares and neither of which are ultimately as important as the safety and well-being of one person, let alone 1,600.
So now you find yourself hopeful that someone will have noticed a post about you, or perhaps watched the news recently, but even so, you now realize that any information about you is being covered up and pushed aside by thousands upon thousands of articles about celebrities falling out, superstars being super, products for sale or posts by friends and families about the more normal things in life.
The longer you spend away, the less people talk about the situation; the less people care and the less important your predicament becomes.
It’s hard to hear and acknowledge, but unfortunately it’s the truth.
In order for missing persons to be found more effectively, there are a few simple yet mostly unrecognised things that authorities, the public and your friends and family could do – “should” do – to help:
The approach we, as a society, take to advertising missing persons on social media is shameful – spending even a few dollars on Facebook, for example, to “boost” a post can be the difference between 100 people seeing it and 100,000. Added to this, Australia doesn’t have an “official” hashtag to help related media explode over the net. In the UK, by comparison, “#missingperson” is the go-to, whereas the more ambiguous, “#missing” is the Aussie equivalent; a hashtag applied to a wide range of topics, as opposed to focusing only on missing people.
Contacting the State Police and National Missing Persons Coordination Centre is also a must, obviously, but in cases where those authorities are overwhelmed, it becomes ever harder to locate people efficiently. As such, it comes highly recommended that a reputable private investigator is brought in within the first three days to assist. Neither the Police or private investigators are better than one or the other, but instead, having both parties work simultaneously means that both the Police and your chosen private investigator can share information, allocate resources more efficiently and ultimately increase the chances for a faster result – speed is of the utmost importance in these situations, especially when taking into consideration that the chances of survival without clean food and water, after just 72 hours, drops significantly.
There are still more than 1,600 people who are missing amidst the county’s expansive and harsh 7.7 million square kilometers – that’s at least 1,600 people who might have lost their way, been abducted, sold off to the sex trade or even murdered, and if their friends and families don’t offer a financial incentive for people to help, it’s incredibly unlikely that anyone will.
Looking at any natural disaster event, where people lose their homes and their families, whether it’s a few hundred or several thousand people, money is spent and efforts are made to help rebuild and improve their lives. For those 1,600 people suffering similar, if not worse fates, what are we doing to help? Sure, some of us will share a post or watch the news – we’ll know about it, but how many of us will get in our cars and actually have a look? Not many.
For reasons unbeknownst to science, the public have continued to show a relative disinterest when it comes to missing persons, yet the notion in itself is often as devastating, if not more, than most of the “bad” news we regularly read about, hear or watch. It’s as though being declared “missing” is a badge to the world that says “Don’t worry”.
If it was you, of course you would want people to worry, but the most effective way to find you would rest on your friends and family’s abilities to manage the situation. Allocating time and resources appropriately is the most important aspect of any successful location operation; sourcing not only Police assistance, but a team of experts who know how best to approach the situation and apply the most effective tools to find you.
When you next get the chance, please take a look over your local missing persons registries – because just maybe you recognise a face that could help change someone’s life.
John Ioannou, Managing Director