A missing persons expert says a failure to adequately research why 35,000 Australians go missing every year is potentially preventing authorities from reducing this devastating number.
University of New England researcher Sarah Wayland has called for more research to help understand why people go missing and how to support them when they return.
Dr Wayland, from the school of health, says there has been no previous research in Australia that seeks to incorporate the stories of returned missing people to understand how and why people go missing.
“Every national Missing Persons Week, we interview the family and friends of missing people and we share the images of missing people but we rarely look at why those people go missing in the first place and what they might need once they come back,” Dr Wayland said.
“People who have returned after being missing need to be heard in isolation from what the family feels. The story of the missing person is one we need to understand better.”
She says often people are just so relieved their loved ones are back they disconnect from support.
“We have no data about what made them go in the first place and what made them come back. Most importantly we need to support them to potentially not go missing again.
Dr Wayland, who previously worked as a counselor with families of missing people, says researchers must have conversations with people who have returned to their families.
“There is a research gap. There is a failure to involve the missing person voice in our core understanding. out of the 35,000 people that go missing every year, 97 per cent come back,” Dr Wayland said.
“We need to open up the conversation … we are silencing their stories. These people have a valid reason for going missing.”
Dr Wayland said returned people, law enforcement and counsellors needed to work together to form a complete picture. Missing Person’s week ended on Friday.
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