ArticlePDF Available

Lost from the conversation: Missing people, and the role of Police media in shaping community awareness


Abstract and Figures

Media as a public health messaging tool can shape community perception. In missing persons’ investigations Police utilise media to assist in location and recovery of absent people. This study, of Australian media in 2019, revealed that the statistical evidence of who goes missing, and returns, revealed that is not replicated in news articles. Content analysis of 2,400 media items highlighting a disconnect between statistical rate of return from being missing (up to 98%) and the media profiling those who return (17% of media articles including returned missing persons narratives). In addition, Police and family dominate media conversations paying minimal attention to the reasons why people vanish or including comment from those who return. Recommendations for Police media strategies, that include an accurate portrayal of the experiences of returned missing persons, as a public health tool, is required.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Lost from the conversation:
Missing people, and the role
of Police media in shaping
community awareness
Aalia Siddiqui and Sarah Wayland
The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Media as a public health messaging tool can shape community perception. In missing
persons’ investigations Police utilise media to assist in location and recovery of absent
people. This study, of Australian media in 2019, revealed that the statistical evidence of
who goes missing, and returns, revealed that is not replicated in news articles. Content
analysis of 2,400 media items highlighting a disconnect between statistical rate of return
from being missing (up to 98%) and the media profiling those who return (17% of media
articles including returned missing persons narratives). In addition, Police and family
dominate media conversations paying minimal attention to the reasons why people
vanish or including comment from those who return. Recommendations for Police
media strategies, that include an accurate portrayal of the experiences of returned
missing persons, as a public health tool, is required.
Missing persons, Police, support services, media analysis, reintegration support, Austra-
lian media
In Australia 38,000 people are reported missing to police each year (Bricknell and
Renshaw, 2016). While approximately 90%of individuals are located within the first
week of their disappearance, others may remain missing for extended periods of time
(James et al., 2008). The Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) definition of a missing
person is ‘Anyone who is reported missing to police, whose whereabouts are unknown,
Corresponding author:
Sarah Wayland, University of New England, Armidale NSW 2350, Australia.
The Police Journal:
Theory, Practice and Principles
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0032258X20984502
and there are fears for the safety or concern for the welfare of that person’ (Bricknell and
Renshaw, 2016).
The international literature regarding missing persons is severely limited, especially
regarding adult populations. Previous literature focuses on children and youth, therefore
unintentionally creating a deficit within adult missing persons research (Stevenson et al.,
2013). Australian research predominantly focuses on the geographic location of missing
people and the Police effort and funding involved in the search. The reintegration of
missing individuals back into society is generally disregarded (Kiernan and Henderson,
2002). Existing literature also focuses on identification of vulnerable groups, such as
those with mental illness and exposure to violence, being more at risk of going missing
(Foy, 2016). Additional risk factors identified by Australian Police highlight ‘known
mental, cognitive and physical conditions’ in addition to ‘intent to self-harm or attempt
suicide’ (p. 14) used to emphasise timely searching to quickly locate an individual
(Bricknell, 2017).
Identified factors highlight the potentially traumatic and challenging process of going
missing, further exposing the vulnerabilities of individuals while they are absent from
their support networks (Sowerby and Thomas, 2017). Societal stigmatisation is attached
to the label of ‘missing persons’ meaning that the term ‘missing’ may be seen as
attention-seeking or costly to emergency services. Missing persons can thus be seen to
represent societal perceptions, such as inconsiderateness to their family, and a trait
attached to mental health behaviours; creating a culture of shame due to the implied
labels impacting others perceptions of them (Kiepal et al., 2012; Parr and Stevenson,
2013; Stevenson and Woolnough, 2016).
Prior disappearance episodes present a key risk factor for missing individuals. In New
South Wales (NSW), 53 percent of cases relating to missing persons cite a prior dis-
appearance episode (Bricknell and Renshaw, 2016). The emotional journeys of returned
individuals referenced within international literature describe going missing as an expe-
rience that captures the physical aspects of missing as well as the psychological dis-
connection from their life (Wayland et al., 2016). This time period can be broad;
encompassing time spent missing, as well as the decisions made prior and the experience
following a disappearance (Biehal et al., 2003).
Why is going missing a public health concern and what is the role of media?
The World Health Organisation defines ‘public health’ as ‘the art and science of pre-
venting disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organised efforts of
society’ (CIFDPH, 1988). The definition of a missing person varies from jurisdiction to
jurisdiction agreement on concerns for risk to safety and wellbeing are common. What
triggers an event, that results in the disappearance of an individual, aligns with the World
Health Organisation public health focus on the need for a concerted effort to bring about
prevention. In this context, being that people go missing due to complex mental health
conditions, to escape dysfunction, to seek out new ways of living, or (to a relatively small
extent) because they are victims of a crime. Public health strategies engage a prevention
focus which, within the missing persons sector (and the dominant role of Police in this
2The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles XX(X)
space) provides scope to use media as more than a location tool but a community-wide
prevention strategy.
Going missing is a significant public health issue that requires input from government
and local agencies, a process involving significant emotional, social and economic
considerations for all involved (Foy, 2016). A recent Canadian study by Ferguson and
Huey (2020) explored the maladaptive coping strategies as the trigger for disappear-
ances, and the connection between high levels of distress and enacting a disappearance.
This study provides insight into the lead up to intentional absences, and identification of
the need for targeted support once located. In addition, Stevenson et al. (2016) explored
the individual experiences of those returned, however there is no current analysis of the
way public discourse and health awareness, such as the role of how Police media, may
shape understanding and response to the health needs of those who vanish and return.
An analysis of the role of media in shaping community health messaging identifies
that the public has the capacity to learn about health and health behaviour from the media
(Gollust and Lantz, 2009). In the context of the Police response to missing persons,
Jeanis and Powers (2017) identifies that media has capacity to shape society’s under-
standing of crime, as well as influence ideas of ‘newsworthiness’ as to what cases receive
prominence and what goes unreported. Disparities, regarding coverage that demonstrate
the complexity of missing persons cases, across gender, race and age, has been identified
in American literature, with little analysis of the Australian media landscape and its
focus on missing persons cases as news items. Media analysis, from similar health issues,
such as Skehan et al. (2006) explore the inclusion of the Mindframe media guidelines for
reporting suicide and mental illness in Australian media. In conceptualising the impact of
these guidelines, authors noted that effective use of guidelines for media professionals
increased likelihood of awareness-raising thus impacting community call to action, to
assist in reducing suicide rates and reduction of stigma associated with mental illness.
There are no guidelines currently available for media professionals to shape their report-
ing responsibilities, nor the nuanced evidence regarding the reason why individuals are
missing. In Australia the only national concerted campaign occurs each year during
National Missing Persons Week, coordinated by the Australian Federal Police, but
without policy guidelines outlining how cases should be reported and which cases are
put forth via State and territory Police Missing Persons Units.
Missing persons cases that are reported in media, and the impact of public health
perception via messaging from media, has not yet been researched. This paper seeks to
understand the experiences of going missing in Australia media, following on to a
discussion regarding how, authentic inclusion of missing people in media stories, may
provide scope to improve awareness of support and in turn improve population health.
The study of media content seeks to understand who says what, in which channel, to whom
and what effect (Lasswell, 1948). The research question was developed to examine the
inclusion of missing and returned persons within Australian media, as a way to explore
how media portrayal may shape perceptions of missing people. The research team utilised
(Roy et al., 2007) media analysis methodology. The methodology reflected that while
Siddiqui and Wayland 3
electronic search databases allow for faster retrieval of articles that meet the search criteria,
hand searching (to ensure false positives were excluded) was also required. The following
outlines the process to ensure, as noted by Roy et al. (2007), ‘transparency about the
choices and decisions made in determining the sample’ (p. 9).
The research was undertaken during time period of the first author’s candidature,
published between January 2019 and September 2019. Inclusion criteria (see Appendix
1) aimed to identify and track the discourse and trends surrounding the missing experi-
ence during. Media, for this project was defined as content published via news outlets,
online, and excluded social media. The time period was also chosen as it allowed
information and trends to arise, in order to allow adequate timeframe to illustrate shifts
in perceptions and discourse (Altheide, 2000). Initially, peer-reviewed databases were
searched. These included Ovid Medline, PubMed, Proquest Central, Australian news-
papers via Factiva, Age (The Age), Sydney Morning Herald, (mid-1980s–
present), Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre Plus & Newspaper Source Plus Ebsco
and Trove Digitised Newspapers. This search yielded minimal relevant results due to
indexing errors noted on the database. Thus, the handsearching of multiple online media
outlets was concurrently conducted including newspapers, broadcast channels, wire
services and news magazines to gain deeper insight into discourse around the country
(Altheide and Schneider, 2013: 83) (see Appendix 1). Roy et al.(2007) methodological
approach was utilised, by accessing the top 10 most widely distributed forms of media
dissemination within Australia, however a limitation identified the lack of search
engines on many websites accessed. Therefore, a restricted customisation of search
terms focused on terminology being constrained to ‘missing person/people’ across all
online outlets. Search strategy and search terms have been included as Appendix 1.
A total of 2,406 forms of media were located for the analysis, however after the
removal of duplicates and screening of both the title and full text eligibility in accordance
with inclusion criteria (noted in Appendix 1), a total of 142 articles were included in the
final analysis (see Figure 1).
The media was then imported into NVivo Software providing efficiency, multiplicity,
and transparency to the process (Hoover and Koerber, 2009). The analysis of the data
included two strategies – content and thematic analysis. Content analysis as a qualitative
technique to objectively and systematically identify key characteristics and inferences of
said content within a text (Matthes and Kohring, 2008). Thematic analysis, to systematic
identify, organising and grouping of patterns of meaning across the data, to gain greater
understanding into the collective meanings and themes within (Braun and Clarke, 2012).
Utilising Nvivo Software, an automated search of nodes (themes) was conducted to
examine the recurrent content and word references within the media to gain a broader
understanding of the data. This strategy alongside Macnamara’s (2005) approach of
combining computer automated codes with manually entered annotations. Each article
was individually revisited and key content regarding concepts, spokespeople and percep-
tions noted.
A ground-up approach of immersion in the data was utilised to examine recurrent
themes. This was achieved by grouping the nodes into categories, then consequently
themes. This process was repeated by the research team to ensure intercoder reliability,
with the data consistently being revisited over period of the project to ensure all facets of
4The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles XX(X)
content were covered from multiple perspectives. The articles were downloaded as
transcripts and reviewed independently and coded by author one to identify block themes
and persistent narratives. These were returned to author two who then reviewed the
emerging themes to verify their accuracy and identified sub-themes. In addition, uncom-
mon experiences were discussed across both authors to examine how these informed the
emergent common themes.
Over 2,400 media items were collected; each initially reviewed through title searching,
and then examined individually to ensure their adherence to the criteria. A total of 142
pieces of media were included in the final analysis. The media analysis examined the
current inclusion and portrayal of missing people across various media platforms. While
Figure 1. PRISMA flow diagram of media analysis results.
Siddiqui and Wayland 5
2%of missing people remain missing and 98%return (Bricknell and Renshaw, 2016),
the media articles gathered over the past year demonstrate 83%of media relate to going
missing, yet only 17%reference those who return. The scope of the study sought to
identify how missing people were included and discussed. Demographic analysis of the
data was not within the scope of the study; however, the articles focussed on two
population groups; missing adults, or children where there were concerns for welfare/
victim of crime. No cases relating to family court disputes were present in the sample.
All articles noted Police or next of kin authority to publicise the missing persons image.
Content analysis
Three common terms were noted in analysis of the media articles. With ‘Police’, ‘search’
and ‘missing person’ referenced in 94%of articles. Manual coding of the data revealed
the majority of media referenced the potential logistical location of missing people and/
or the role of family in shaping the police investigations. Analysis of the content revealed
that a focus on the geography of locating a missing individual (n ¼84; 59.3%), promo-
tion of cold cases (unsolved historical investigations) involving missing persons (n ¼37;
26%); and the scant information identifying that the missing person had been located (n
¼15, 10.5%) (Table 1).
Manual coding of the data sought to identify whose perspectives were dominant
within articles. This was completed by analysis of quotes within the article or paraphras-
ing of missing persons investigations including opinions shared by those interviewed.
103 articles referenced ‘police’ perspectives (72.5%) as the dominant storyline, 36
articles referenced ‘family’ (25.3%) and 9 articles referenced ‘community’ (6.3%)as
sources for information and perspective. 16 of 142 articles referenced the emotions
experienced of those individuals left behind, and 2 (1.4%)articlesmadedirectreference
to a returned individual’s experience (Figure 2).
Thematic analysis
The thematic analysis revealed four themes present when media report on missing
persons incidents: 1) Perceptions from dominant spokespeople; 2) Capacity to shape
discourse surrounding a missing person; 3) Introducing perspectives of absence; and 4)
Strategies to contrast public perceptions.
Theme 1. Perceptions from dominant spokespeople
Police. Police are the dominant voices in the media stories reviewed, over 70%of articles
contained law enforcement commentary, with an emphasis on short-term cases, where
the person has been missing for less than 6 months. ‘Police-driven’ media (such as an
appeal for information or status update on a case), centres the conversation on the sharing
only of police information, inadvertently only offering a police perspective on the issue
of going missing. Police-driven articles seek assistance from the community with the
location of individuals, with minimal detail regarding the reasons behind the person’s
absence or potential support needs unless for medical purposes (such as ‘requires regular
6The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles XX(X)
Table 1. Four themes of missing person data, with example nodes.
Theme 1: Dominant Spokespeople
Theme 2: Discourse Surrounding
Missing Persons Theme 3: Perspectives of Absence Theme 4: Contrasting Public Perceptions
"Police dominant conversations
"Gate-keepers of the missing
persons systems
"Lead search efforts
"Main source of information
"Family dynamics change when
an individual disappears
"Rally community support
"Call out for help regarding
search and rescue efforts
"Community action fades the
longer an individual is missing
"Community awareness of
missing persons is ‘vitally
Missing Returned Individuals
"No direct mentions
"Perspective reported through
third parties
"Experience different from
constructed realities
"Stigmatising language
"Police often have clinical
undertones – ‘distant care’
"Family/friend utilise highly
emotive language
"Family deal with the ambiguous
loss of being left behind
"Discourse dominated by external
"Missing individuals’ perspectives
aren’t involved in current
"Family forever hold out hope for
"Police and family dominated
"Risk Factors used to explain absence – i.e. mental
health – can overshadow an individual’s
"Personality profiles constructed by family/friends
"External individuals construct experience
"Everlasting media footprint of externally
constructed experiences
"Missing Persons Week relayed familial
experience of absence
"Constructed perspectives don’t match the
realities experienced
"Public only receive a one-sided story
"Indigenous population group
"Mental health over-represented, with no
reference to support
"Disconnect with demographics
"Stigmatisation of ‘missing persons’
"Public have preconceived notions of
missing / returned individuals and their
"Deviations from social standards often
seen ‘inherently abnormal’
"Family dissatisfaction with police, police
frustration with family
medication’). The following excerpt (Barry, 2019) is from an article which disclosed
personal information regarding a long-term missing persons case to aid in his location
however capacity to humanise the missing person was absent.
Detective Senior Constable Chris Hitchen said Mr Bale appeared to have become agitated
and “self-deprecating” after the minor confrontation, and made remarks about his own self-
worth. It’s understood he said he was “screwed up,” and “couldn’t do this any longer”
(News article reporting on a Council assisting coroner investigation involving a 38-year
old man, missing 6 years)
Family. The perspectives of the family of the missing person also play a prominent role in
the articles. Family perspectives were included as a strategy to aid police investigations
by appealing on the polices’ behalf for information, calling for community searching and
a focus on the end goal to bring the missing person home. Analysis also identified that
those articles, where the missing person was absent for more than 1 year, shifted to
family perspectives presented from their own personal experiences with missing indi-
viduals, and the grief and ambiguous loss of being left behind, rather than a Police
commentary on the investigation. A rise within this type of humanistic media was
observed during National Missing Persons Week (July/August 2019), which aims to
enhance public awareness of the incidence of missing people.
Missing individuals. There were no articles, within the timeframe where data was collected,
that aimed to illustrate the individual experiences of returned missing people, their
support needs or any detailed resolution to their case. Articles that focused on resolution,
where missing individuals were located deceased, included familial and community
perspectives, in comparison to those stories where the person was located alive. The
Figure 2. Dominant perspectives expressed in the media.
8The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles XX(X)
majority of instances were individuals were located alive were usually in the form of an
update on an already existing article, and rarely more than 1–2 sentences long.
thank the public for their help. (Cairns Post, 2019):
This is compared to discourse when a missing person is located deceased, where more
emotive and personal language is utilised;
This is my one job; all we want is to know where he is to bring him home. Either way, he
doesn’t deserve to be out there like a piece of garbage. (Fuller, 2019)
(Mother reflecting upon the death of her missing son)
Theme 2. Capacity to shape discourse surrounding a missing person
The analysis revealed a police discourse that was characterised by forensic language and
terminology. Reconstruction of narratives, that may be viewed as being distant from a
missing persons experience were observed, often spoken with authoritative language and
with an absence on, why the person might be absent. This is demonstrated by the police
response to locating a missing hiker in Kakadu National Park, where no other informa-
tion was provided about the returned individual
This is a timely reminder for members of the public to make necessary plans when travelling
outdoors. (Australian Associated Press, 2019)
Articles where family and or friends’ perspectives are placed as the central narratives
utilise emotive language, in comparison to Police articles. The narratives are beset with
concern, in order to express their wish for the missing person to return home or explain
their own experiences in living with the loss of a missing person. In the quote below,
family of missing Belgian backpacker Theo Hayes express their concern regarding the
location of their son, and contact with emergency services
We keep in touch with them 24 hours, they don’t sleep, we don’t sleep. We try but it’s not
possible. (Brennan, 2019)
There is no discernible discourse in relation to the language utilised by returned
people, as there is nil commentary by returned individuals. The discourse is thus dom-
inated by external perspectives to that of returned individuals, limiting how they can be
portrayed, perceived and understood.
Theme 3. Perspectives of absence
The perceptions as to why a person may be absent is gathered from the perspective of
Police and family only. 47%of the media articles identified a police perspective regard-
ing the location of a missing person. Comments regarding a missing persons’ personality
Siddiqui and Wayland 9
using disparaging language and a focus primarily on support to the family’s left behind.
What was also identified in the analysis is the role of family and/or friends also helped to
construct personality profiles and knowledge based on their experiences with the person,
as opposed to the person themselves, as seen by the subjective realities created by those
left behind in Theo Hayez disappearance, from the perspective of a friend who was the
last person to see him:
It seems like he was still happy where he was at that time, so he might’ve met someone on
the way to the backpackers or decided to go and lay on the beach for a bit, we don’t know.
(Duffin, 2019)
Two of 142 articles directly referenced the individual’s perspective of going missing,
yet these were brief sentences that spoke only to satisfy the wellbeing of the search team.
Such is the case when two hikers went missing, enacting mass media attention and
search-and-rescue support to locate them under the assumption they were in danger,
however this was different to the reality experienced upon return
When asked what it was like being lost, Mr Salvado had just one word. ‘Serenity’. (SBS
News, 2019)
Simon Semaan’s perspective was relayed through family contact with the press in
order to cease search efforts
...made contact with his family on Saturday afternoon after seeing media reports about his
disappearance. It’s understood he told his family he was okay, but “needed some space.”
(Latouff, 2019)
Only the second article, (Latouff, 2019) included follow up information regarding
crisis mental health support.
Theme 4. Contrasting public perceptions
The analysis identified perspectives that referenced community attitudes and behaviours,
such as volunteer services as well as those local to the area who may wish to assist with
searching. These articles focused on the geography of locating the missing person via
search information as well as refencing ‘grave concern’ for a safe return. There was also
focus on the need to support the families left behind. There was nil commentary about
the needs of the person should they be located.
Media, regarding police perspectives, were predominantly focused on locating the
individuals through informing the public of their disappearance. Family perspectives
were emotive in their inclusion of first-person narratives. The focus was on the missing
persons absence; used to create search profiles in order to assist the location process and
assembling support for searching. This is seen through family advocacy to locate a
missing elderly man in Melbourne
10 The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles XX(X)
Our family call him Peter Pan because he seems so ageless, he was still playing tennis at 92.
He is fiercely independent and has a passion for vintage cars, he is a member of two car
clubs. (Sweeney, 2019)
Only one article aimed to combat such detrimental perspectives and plead for greater
understanding (Thomsen, 2019) by referencing the Australian Federal Police myths and
facts about missing people, within their article, as a way to shape public awareness;
Myth: Details about missing persons are not confidential.
Fact: All details about missing persons are kept confidential and are not made available
to the public unless permission has been granted by the family and investigating officers.
The documented experiences of returned people within the media analysis, contrasted
the statistical analysis of the prevalence and incidence of missing persons cases in
The media analysis was conducted to explore the ways in which missing people are
commonly discussed and portrayed within the community and whether or not these
findings concurred with the statistical incidence and risk factors relevant to going miss-
ing. The results identify that both the scant data and the ‘missing’ narratives in the media
highlight areas of concern regarding the health needs of the missing persons population:
impacted further by the lack of participation and inclusion of returned individuals’
voices. This highlights a disproportional skew within the data regarding media relating
to a ‘lost’ approach instead a ‘found’ one, with the public receiving an unequal and
misinformed narrative of the missing experience.
There is no focus on returned stories, despite the statistically significant amount of
people who would have lived experience of returning from a missing persons episode,
therefore missing any opportunity to enhance health awareness about the vulnerabilities
inherent in going missing. From reviewing the data the primary purpose of media is to
publicise the absence as a way of promoting location, Hunt and colleagues (2019) note
that the use of media appeals (including social media) to locate missing children, ‘there
is a limited understanding of how effective these appeals really are’ (p. 417), while
allowing for images to be viewed by the community, the ongoing conversation, that
addresses how a lens of location only, limits development of health awareness which in
turn minimises missing persons population needs is discussed further.
Police ‘voice’ has precedence
In the public arena, the voices of the missing are not heard first-hand – there is no health
strategy identified to respond to the risks of going missing, no law enforcement com-
mitment to post-missing interviews (Holmes, 2014) or the vulnerability while absent or
on return. The secondary perspectives of those other than the voice of the returned person
dominate the media, which, by default determines an individual’s experience. Reasons
as to why the person is missing is hypothesised by dominant spokespeople with no
Siddiqui and Wayland 11
capacity to remedy the true reason for the disappearance. Thus, it must become a
necessity to include the perspectives of all returned individuals, not only to provide
autonomy and control over media narratives, but also challenge the stigmatisation of
the term ‘missing person’ (Stevenson and Woolnough, 2016); as the label often incites
emotions of guilt and shame with missing individuals. The inclusion of such narratives
will also assist in the creation of policy prevention strategies, aimed at reducing the
prevalence and incidence of disappearance episodes (Liebler, 2010) without the inclu-
sion of narratives of the returned – across media and research – strategies aimed at health
service response are not evident, and if they are identified, are not grounded in an
evidence base.
Mental health is often cited as a reason behind a disappearance as a means to explain
the deviation in behaviour from the norm of not going missing. Data identifies that over
25%of cases within Australia (James et al., 2008) relate to poor mental health, as
reported by next of kin, or services where the person resided as being a trigger for the
disappearance. Narratives are skewed to one perspective shared – those left behind; the
digital footprint of this experience is unable to be redacted, possibly affecting an indi-
vidual’s capacity to return (McPeak, 2013). There is no capacity to assess the impact of
revealing private information about a persons mental health, in order to locate them
(Wayland, 2013). While family/friend perspectives of why a person has gone missing are
important and informative, the telling of such emotive recounts has unknown conse-
quences on an individual’s decision to return or implications for their privacy. Family
support may be appreciated in lieu of lived experience from missing people however the
analysis of articles revealed that returned individuals reported guilt and upset about the
trauma those left behind where exposed to, suggesting that the anxious urging for
location of a person may have detrimental impacts on the person who is lost.
The additional impact of the Police being the dominant spokespeople is also signif-
icant. While Policing and health promotion strategies (AFP, n.d.) identify that it is not a
crime to go missing in Australia. However, the inclusion of Police narrative on behalf of
vulnerable people going missing may suggest an inherent aspect of perceived criminality
(Stevenson and Woolnough, 2016). The implication of this connection – between dis-
appearance entwined with perceptions of criminality – has not yet been researched.
The data confirms that there are restrictions to the voices of missing people within the
community, thus negating a returned individual’s autonomy to shape how support ser-
vices may better respond to their needs. Just as in the mental health and suicide preven-
tion space the inclusion of lived experience speakers, and representation from those who
have experienced going missing is required in order to balance the narrative. Police
conversations traditionally have clinical, magisterial undertones which, while acknowl-
edging the family experience and distress, fail to take into account the individuals’
emotions (Fyre et al., 2015) meaning that the way in which the media structures the
discourse surrounding missing persons enacts certain prejudice and stigma. Smith (2007)
concludes that the culture created through forms of media can create a sense of ‘othering’
by creating people as a separate social entity, whose voices are silent. Whereby the
conversations and experiences individuals create, by not including all voices, can further
ostracise already vulnerable individuals.
12 The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles XX(X)
Disconnect between perception and experience
The media analysis has demonstrated a disconnect between the individual experience of
going missing and the publics preconceived notions, often differ from reality. Societal
perceptions are heavily influenced by the media, as deviation from socially dictated
societal norms is seen as ‘abnormal’ (Katz, 2009).
The minimal articles referencing aspects of the individual experience demonstrated
very different perspectives to what the public and media had portrayed in the aftermath
of their disappearance. The extreme dismay and ‘grave concern’ recorded for experi-
enced hikers who went missing caused public upset, although the individuals recount of
the experience was described as ‘serenity’. This community dismay and consequential
action, however, has been shown to have positive impact on the families left behind, as
seen by the comments made by missing person Theo Hayez family regarding the com-
munity support he has received trying to locate Theo (SBS News, 2019).
“Your warmness and kindness is like a balm on our bleedin’ heart,” Mr Hayez posted to a
group for the Byron Bay community
(Father of missing son reached out to thank the community for their support)
This disconnect is systematic across the missing persons spectrum, as perspectives
and experiences regarding missing individuals are often created by police and family
through a secondary lens, instead of the primary lens of lived experience. This further
widens the deficit between perceptions and reality. Promotion of individual narratives
could aim to negate this disconnect and improve the provision and recommendation of
services (financial, emotional, employment) by allowing individuals to see the true
experience of ‘going missing’. This would aim to breach the disconnect seen in the
media between the ‘lost’ approach as opposed to the ‘found’ one.
The media analysis demonstrated a deficit in diversity of narratives of returned
missing people, despite the strong evidence base suggesting that most people will return.
The disconnect between the people who go missing and the lack of conveyance of lived
experience in the media may pose a unique problem to understanding how to address the
increasing number of missing persons cases both in Australia and internationally (James
et al., 2008). While the media analysis often sighted ‘mental health problems’ as a key
characteristics of missing person profiles in the media, negligible data was shown for the
‘support’ of missing persons to enhance perception about how they may be received
when they return. The context in which support was offered was only briefly mentioned
regarding those left behind. It is of paramount importance to include individual experi-
ences in the media as a way to illustrate the true nature of the missing persons population.
Shalev-Greene (2020) noted that a more in-depth portrayal of missing person in the
media provides capacity to identify biases and stereotypes. Bias about the health and
vulnerability of missing people who return may impact the capacity in which people seek
support as well as the understandings about their health needs. Research identifies a
continued deficit regarding missing experiences from the perspectives on those once
missing themselves. While the media is a useful source of data that replicates community
perceptions, it promotes a clear disconnect between returned individuals and their
Siddiqui and Wayland 13
experiences due to the dominant spokespeople within this domain, enacting unintended
stigma and limited capacity to respond to the health vulnerabilities that may trigger a
missing episode or needs on return. Further analysis of new media platforms like Face-
book/Twitter/Podcasts may assist in gaining insight into how media can broaden
The findings of the study identify ways in which the use of Police media, can
incorporate current research via Ferguson and Huey (2020) and Hunt (2019) regarding
the mechanisms of recall and the predictive factors that may impact on the choices
people may make, prior to going missing, as well as incorporating a broader prevention
focus that addresses the health needs of missing people. Previous commentary via Way-
land (2013) notes that the inclusion of sensitive health information, regarding mental
health presentations, may impact the privacy of the missing person and as yet, the
capacity for this to limit location is not understood. The media has scope to reach a
large population of people however its capacity to locate people is untested, therefore
reshaping the purpose of using media as a tool for investigation to focus more on
communicating risk of going missing, support options for family and friends and inclu-
sion of narratives of people who have gone missing to reflect predictive factors such as
illness, disconnection or misadventure. Training of Police around the risk factors of
going missing, as well as engaging Police media units, in understanding the nuance
within the statistics or rate of return, may allow for more targeted campaigns that address
the true nature of missing persons to better inform the community that missing is more
than lost and found but a complex health issue that requires enhanced support.
Almost all media articles centred on the statistics that each year in Australia over 38,000
Australians go missing, yet the narratives of the returned remain untold within the public
arena, despite their stories being the reason for the sharing of news. This media analysis
demonstrated that the public discourse surrounding missing people does not include
lived experience voices, needs and perspectives. Families who are left behind as well
as Police modulate and interpret returned voices furthering a disconnect between an
individual’s experience of going missing and the narratives pieced together by readers of
media. This in turn, negates their experiences and diminishes their voices within the
community. Targeted strategies within Police media units to ensure safer reporting and
authentic inclusion of returned missing persons stories in the media may create a rippled
effect within the community discourse regarding why people go missing. While this area
of research is still in its infancy, it has significant potential to positively affect the quality
of lives of returned individuals and help decrease the chances of possible repeat dis-
appearances through enhancing health literacy via public health media messaging.
Authors’ note
Sarah Wayland is now affiliated with University of New England, Australia.
14 The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles XX(X)
Declaration of conflicting interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
Sarah Wayland
Altheide DL (2000) Tracking discourse and qualitative document analysis. Poetics 27(4):
Altheide DL and Schneider CJ (2013) Qualitative Media Analysis,vol.38.ThousandOaks,CA:
Sage, pp. 80–86.
Australian Associated Press (2019, 22 August) French hiker found in Kakadu. Bendigo Advertiser.
Available at:
kakadu/ (accessed 10 October 2019)
Barry H (2019, 19 June) The phone call that shed new light on Rottnest Island disappearance two
years later. WAtoday. Available at:
20190619-p51z85.html (accessed 10 October 2019).
Biehal N, Mitchell F and Wade J (2003) Lost from View: Missing Persons in the UK. Bristol:
Policy Press.
Braun V and Clarke V (2012) Thematic analysis.
Brennan A (2019, 10 June) ‘We don’t sleep’: family’s plea to help find Theo. The Courier Mail.
Available at:
help-find-theo/news-story/3f76b27fc34463a7c2bb549efdbf3b77 (accessed 10 October 2019).
Bricknell S and Renshaw L (2016) Missing Persons in Australia, 2008-2015 .Canberra:Australian
Institute of Criminology.
Bricknell SAustralian Institute of Criminology (issuing body) (2017). Missing persons : Who is at
risk? Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.
Cairns Post (2019, 25 April) Mount Sheridan woman found by Cairns police. Cairns Post.
Available at:
(accessed 10 October 2019).
Committee of Inquiry into the Future Development of the Public Health Function (1988) Public
Health in England: Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Future Development of the
Public Health Function (Cm. 289). London: The Stationery Office.
Duffin P (2019, 11 June) Fears grow for backpacker missing in NSW. The Canberra Times.
Available at:
missing-in-nsw/?cs¼14231 (accessed 10 October 2019).
Ferguson L and Huey L (2020) ‘Going missing’ as a maladaptive coping behavior for adults
experiencing strain. Deviant Behavior. DOI: 10.1080/01639625.2020.1773175.
Siddiqui and Wayland 15
Foy S (2016) A profile of missing persons: some key findings for police officers. In: Morewitz SJ
and Colls CS (eds) Handbook of Missing Persons. Berlin: Springer, pp. 7–18.
Fuller K (2019, 28 June) Missing Illawarra man Gary Pearce confirmed dead. ABC News.
Available at:
confirmed-dead/11262580. (accessed 10 October 2019)
Fyfe NR, Stevenson O and Woolnough P (2015) Missing persons: the processes and challenges of
police investigation. Policing and Society 25(4): 409–425.
Gollust SE and Lantz PM (2009) Communicating population health: print news media coverage of
type 2 diabetes. Social Science & Medicine 69(7): 1091–1098.
Greene KS (2020) Missing Persons: Identifying Best Practice, Training and Research Needs.
Portsmouth, UK: The Independent Civilian Review into Missing Persons Investigation.
Holmes L (2014). When the Search is Over: Reconnecting Missing Children and Adults.London:
Missing People.
Hoover RS and Koerber AL (2009) Using NVivo to answer the challenges of qualitative research
in professional communication: benefits and best practices tutorial. IEEE Transactions on
Professional Communication 54(1): 68–82.
Hunt D, Ioannou M and Synnott J (2019) Missing children photograph appeals: Does the number
of appeals affect identification accuracy following a short recall delay? Journal of Police and
Criminal Psychology 34(4): 417–427.
James MP, Anderson J, Putt J, et al.(2008)Missing Persons in Australia.Canberra:Australian
Institute of Criminology Canberra.
Jeanis MN and Powers P (2017) Newsworthiness of missing persons cases: an analysis of selection
bias, disparities in coverage, and the narrative framework of news reports. Deviant Behavior
38(6): 668–683.
Katz C (2009) Social systems: thinking about society, identity, power and resistance. Key
Concepts in Geography 236.
Kiepal LC, Carrington PJ and Dawson M (2012) Missing persons and social exclusion. Canadian
Journal of Sociology 37(2): 137–168.
Kiernan C and Henderson M (2002) Missing persons: extending traditional policing boundaries to
address a social issue. In: Paper to Third Australasian women and policing conference: women
and policing globally, Canberra, pp. 2–23).
Lasswell HD (1948) The structure and function of communication in society. In Bryson L (Ed) The
Communication of Ideas. New York: Harper and Row, pp. 37–51.
Latouff A (2019, 15 June) Missing Sydney DJ and father of five makes contact with family. 10
Daily News. Available at:
missing-popular-sydney-dj-and-father-of-five-20190615 (accessed 10 October 2019).
Liebler CM (2010) Me (di) a culpa?: The ‘missing white woman syndrome’ and media self-
critique. Communication, Culture & Critique 3(4): 549–565.
Macnamara JR (2005) Media content analysis: its uses, benefits and best practice methodology.
Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal 6(1): 1.
Matthes J and Kohring M (2008) The content analysis of media frames: toward improving relia-
bility and validity. Journal of Communication 58(2): 258–279.
McPeak A (2013) The Facebook digital footprint: paving fair and consistent pathways to civil
discovery of social media data. Wake Forest Law Review 48: 887.
16 The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles XX(X)
Parr H and Stevenson O (2013) Families living with absence: searching for missing people.
Emotion, Space and Society 19: 66–75.
Roy SC, Faulkner G and Finlay SJ (2007, September) Hard or soft searching? Electronic database
versus hand searching in media research. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum:
Qualitative Social Research 8(3).
SBS News (2019, 23 June) Local volunteers continue to search for Belgian backpacker Theo
Hayez. SBS News. Available at:
search-for-belgian-backpacker-theo-hayez (accessed 10 October 2019).
SBS News (2019, 12 March) Victorian hikers stayed ‘calm’, confident of survival during five-day-
ordeal. SBS News. Available at:
confident-of-survival-during-five-day-ordeal (accessed 10 October 2019).
Skehan J, Greenhalgh S, Hazell T, et al.(2006)Reach,awarenessanduptakeofmediaguidelines
for reporting suicide and mental illness: an Australian perspective. International Journal of
Mental Health Promotion 8(4): 29–35.
Smith RA (2007) Language of the lost: an explication of stigma communication. Communication
Theory 17(4): 462–485.
Sowerby A and Thomas SD (2017) A mixed methods study of the mental health and criminal
justice histories of missing persons. Police Practice and Research 18(1): 87–98.
Stevenson O, Parr H, Woolnough P, et al. (2013) Geographies of missing people: processes,
experiences, responses [Online]. Project Report. University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK.
Stevenson O and Woolnough P (2016) Geographies of missing people: improving police knowl-
edge and response to missing persons. In: Morewitz SJ and Colls CS (eds) Handbook of
Missing Persons. Berlin: Springer, pp. 127–143.
Sweeney K (2019, 11 May) Melb car enthusiast, 95, still missing. The Canberra Times. Available
cs¼14231 (accessed 10 October 2019).
Thomsen S (2019, 4 August) It’s missing persons week: here are some soberingfacts on people who go
missing. Business Insider Australia.Availableat:
some-sobering-facts-on-people-who-go-missing-during-missing-persons-week-2014-8 (accessed
10 October 2019).
Wayland S, Maple M, McKay K, et al. (2016) Holding on to hope: a review of the literature
exploring missing persons, hope and ambiguous loss. Death Studies 40(1): 54–60.
Wayland S (2013) Missing and found: understanding the privacy needs of missing people. The
Appendix 1: Search strategy
Search methodology for databases
"Databases searched: Ovid Medline, PubMed, Proquest Central, Australian news-
papers via Factiva, Age (The Age), Sydney Morning Herald, (mid-
1980s–present), Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre Plus & Newspaper
Source Plus Ebsco and Trove Digitised Newspapers.
Siddiqui and Wayland 17
Inclusion criteria
"Language: English
"Location: Australia
"Date: Last 12 months
Search terms utilised
(((missing OR (missing person*.mp) OR (runaway behaviour/) OR runa-
way*.mp OR abducte*.mp OR (lost person*.mp) OR (absen* without OR
kidnap*.mp OR castaway*.mp) AND (((police adj4 report*) .mp.) OR police/)) OR
(((missing OR (missing person*.mp) OR (runaway behaviour/) OR runa-
way*.mp OR abducte*.mp OR (lost person*.mp) OR (absen* without OR
kidnap*.mp OR castaway*.mp) AND (support*.mp. OR rehab*.mp. OR (mental OR OR voice*.mp.)) OR (((missing OR (miss-
ing person*.mp) OR (runaway behaviour/) OR runaway*.mp OR abducte*.mp OR (lost
person*.mp) OR (absen* without OR kidnap*.mp OR castaway*.mp) AND
(((police adj4 report*) .mp.) OR police/) AND (support*.mp. OR rehab*.mp. OR (men-
tal OR OR voice*.mp.))
10 daily newspapers/country wide
1. Herald Sun
2. Daily Telegraph
3. Sydney Morning Herald
4. The Canberra Times
5. The West Australian
6. The Age
7. The Courier-Mail
8. The Mercury
9. The Advertiser
10. Northern Territory News
Handsearching strategy
"Top 10 daily newspapers circulating in the country, Top two country-wide dis-
tributed newspapers, three nationally disseminated news magazines, six national
broadcast outlets, two wire services and one internet news source
"Search strategy for Handsearching
1. websites were examined to ensure they had a search engine to locate relevant
content, if not they were not included
2. Using the search engine, the exact terms were searched, and then broadened
to ‘Missing people person þpolice support’
3. Time limit cannot be set, although results can be ordered from most recent
and worked back
18 The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles XX(X)
... Further, inaccurate, repetitive messages about crime can impact consumers' perceptions about crime and the justice system (Morgan et al., 2015). Media attention is important for missing persons cases because the media creates public interest and helps keep people's attention: Indeed, a member of the public may be able to provide the crucial tip to bring a missing person home (Kassab, 2012;Siddiqui & Wayland, 2022). Further, police may place higher priority on cases that receive media attention (Kassab, 2012), and family members of missing people who do not receive media attention may experience distress at the lack of attention given to their loved one (Dartnall et al., 2019). ...
True crime podcasts are a newer addition to the media and true crime landscape, and listenership is steadily growing. While other forms of true crime have been shown to overrepresent harm against White women and children, no study to date has examined whether White missing women/girls are overrepresented in true crime podcasts compared to women/girls of color. In this study, the researchers examined data from four of the top listened-to podcasts in the United States with two goals in mind: (1) to determine whether White women and girls are overrepresented in true crime podcasts about missing women/girls and (2) to report on the overarching themes, if any, found in podcast episode titles and descriptions for episodes that feature missing women/girls. Based on data gleaned from podcast titles and descriptions, descriptive results show that White women and girls were overrepresented in episodes about missing women/girls compared to missing women and girls of color. Further, an inductive qualitative content analysis of episode descriptions revealed that some were written in casual/friendly tones, which signified an affable relationship between the hosts and the listeners. Areas of further inquiry are discussed, as is the need to uplift podcasts that feature stories about people of color.
... Many reports from around the world (Parr and Fyfe, 2013) have emphasised this kind of evidence-based policing. A case in point is the success that the Australian Police met with, in utilising the media to assist in the location and recovery of absent people (Siddiqui and Wayland, 2022). ...
Full-text available
The primary duty of law enforcement agencies is to ensure that a victim has the necessary information and access to the relevant tools required to seek justice. In India, complex cases such as bodily offences and property crimes capture the work and efforts of many agencies involved; however, cases related to missing persons are not often accorded similar priority or seriousness. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have added further challenges to this scenario. The government-mandated lockdowns in Tamil Nadu generally exacerbated difficult socio-economic and living conditions, thereby directly or indirectly contributing to an increased load of missing person cases. This study aims to assess and identify the impact of mobility on reporting and registration of missing persons. By adopting an auto-regressive neural networks method, this study uses a counterfactual analysis of registered missing person cases during the government-mandated lockdowns in response to the global pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The registered cases are calculated based on the daily count of cases for eleven years in Tamil Nadu, India. The lockdowns identify eight different time windows to determine the impact of mobility on the registration of cases. While there has been no significant or drastic change over the pre-pandemic period, during the pandemic, especially during the restrictive phases of the pandemic, there was a sharp fall in cases compared to the counterfactual predicted (effect sizes: −0.981 and −0.74 in 2020 and 2021), signalling towards a choked mechanism of reporting. In contrast, when most mobility restrictions were removed, an increase in cases (effect sizes of +0.931 and 0.834 in 2020 and 2021) pointed to restored and enabled reporting channels. The research findings emphasise the significance of mobility as a factor in influencing the reporting and registration of missing persons and the need to ensure this continues to help families find redress.
... By introducing technology into these scenarios, they may become more useful and less time-consuming. The most common strategy is to use already installed cameras to broadcast continuous video information from remote areas in order to investigate and locate the individual without recording a video in real-time [1], but such a system may prove to be extremely expensive due to the enormous computation power required. Basically, every community in the world has put cameras on almost every site, and everyone carries video capturing equipment in the form of a mobile phone, thus there is little possibility of missing any second of a video stream that may contain critical information [2]. ...
Full-text available
Technology is constantly advancing, and many individuals submit various video material to social networking websites such as YouTube or Facebook. Since it has become a source of income for many individuals across the world, it is becoming increasingly vital to utilize it in situations when you need to discover a specific person in several video recordings. Another option is to manually go through each video and try to discover the individual segment in order to extract it. Manual searching can take a long time, and it's practically difficult to find a specific video in which a person appears. A person can only focus for 20 to 30 minutes on average to recognize or identify the person in the video, and a video stream may take much longer. Due to the huge quantity of data gathered in the multimedia application, such as videos, a human conducting a video search manually may be difficult to do so properly in such cases. It is critical to automate the procedure in order to eliminate human error and the time it takes to identify the individual in the video footage. Given its popularity and use in applications ranging from our mobile phone games to high-end computers for future forecasting, artificial intelligence may be used to address many difficulties, including this one. In this work, a pre-trained facial recognition classifier known as the Linear Binary Pattern Histogram (LBPH) is utilized to recognize a person in video clips and provide recorded proof of each video in which a person appears, along with the time stamp of his or her visibility. Here, a method is proposed for identifying and tracking down a missing individual utilizing massive video data and Artificial Intelligence without the need for human participation.
Full-text available
The study objectives were (1) to determine if there were any associations between the time spent observing fictional appeals and identification accuracy, (2) to establish if the number of missing children photographs observed influences identification accuracy and (3) to determine whether the number of missing children appeals observed influences identification accuracy following a short 3-day delay. A two-stage approach was utilised. Two hundred and forty-two participants observed one, four or eight mock missing children photographs followed by a short word memory distraction task and a target present line-up identification task. The second stage comprised of another target present line-up identification task presented after a short 3-day delay. One-way between-group ANOVAs indicate that observing one missing child photograph has significantly greater overall identification accuracy and lower identification error than viewing four or eight photographs immediately after observing the appeal and following a 3-day delay. Additional analyses found that the identification accuracy was significantly higher immediately after observation compared with the identification accuracy following a 3-day delay. The findings demonstrate the necessity for improving missing children appeals. Due to the exploratory nature of the study, additional research is required to explore these factors further.
Full-text available
Families of missing people are often understood as inhabiting a particular space of ambiguity, captured in the phrase ‘living in limbo’ (Holmes, 2008). To explore this uncertain ground, we interviewed 25 family members to consider how human absence is acted upon and not just felt within this space ‘in between’ grief and loss (Wayland, 2007). In the paper, we represent families as active agents in spatial stories of ‘living in limbo’, and we provide insights into the diverse strategies of search/ing (technical, physical and emotional) in which they engage to locate either their missing member or news of them. Responses to absence are shown to be intimately bound up with unstable spatial knowledges of the missing person and emotional actions that are subject to change over time. We suggest that practices of search are not just locative actions, but act as transformative processes providing insights into how families inhabit emotional dynamism and transition in response to the on-going ‘missing situation’ and ambiguous loss (Boss, 1999, 2013).
Full-text available
When a person goes missing, those left behind mourn an ambiguous loss where grief can be disenfranchised. Different to bereavement following death, hope figures into this experience as a missing person has the potential to return. This review explores hope for families of missing people. Lived experience of ambiguous loss was deconstructed to reveal responses punctuated by hope, which had practical and psychological implications for those learning to live with an unresolved absence. Future lines of enquiry must address the dearth of research exploring the role of hope, unresolved grief, and its clinical implications when a person is missing.
This study applied the Threat Appraisal and Coping Theory to explore the mechanisms influencing a person to go missing. We examined the negative emotions and stressors – proximate stressors/stressful events, underlying life stressors, emotional states, and other dysfunctional behaviors – of adults who were reported as missing from 2014-2018. Our results indicate that missing persons experience significant underlying life stressors, stressful situations, and proximate stressors that can ‘trigger’ a missing episode. We also found that most missing adults are described as facing negative emotions, such as anger, and engaging in maladaptive behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use, that are related to these events. These findings, we suggest, highlight that affectual and individual-level mechanisms are influential factors contributing to why adults go missing. Lastly, it was revealed that missing adults are commonly reported as experiencing strains and stressors in their personal relationships, indicating that this phenomenon may be attenuated through social support as an adaptive coping resource. Through these results, we can begin to understand missingness as driven by a negative event, stressor, or emotion in which the person engages in the maladaptive coping behavior of ‘going missing’ as a way to escape the situation and achieve some level of emotional or cognitive distance.
The most publicised reminders of inaccurate risk classification by police officers dealing with missing person’s reports come from cases where the missing person was presumed to have runaway but was later found to have met with foul play. Fortunately, such occurrences are extremely rare. Despite this, there is still enormous pressure on the officer taking the initial missing persons report to ask the right questions, assess possible risk factors, make a judgement about what may have happened to the missing person and then allocate appropriate resources—all within a timely manner. For all police officers, and for every missing person report made, the task is complex. No research has been conducted in the area of misclassifications of risk when a new missing person report is received, so the true numbers remain unknown. Given the high numbers of missing persons reports that are made on a daily basis, this chapter will work towards helping all police officers make an informed and hopefully confident assessment of risk that has a high degree of reliability.
With an increased appetite for evidence-based policing within an Anglo-American context, advances in policing interventions, principles and strategies to reduce crime have gathered considerable pace. In contrast, while responding to missing persons reports is a large part of everyday policing, the associated research-base is in its infancy. Contributing to this paucity, this chapter draws on empirical evidence collected as part of an ESRC-funded study, the ‘Geographies of Missing People’. Making the case for the inclusion of narrative experience within policing practice, here we firstly outline the key elements of missing adults journeys as articulated by returned missing adults themselves and secondly provide insight into the search strategies and policing needs of families whilst their loved one is missing. In conclusion, we suggest that greater knowledge of missing geographies and family search, as articulated by those with first-hand experience, has relevance for improving police investigations and associated activities.
Media coverage varies as a function of demographic and situational characteristics such that more “newsworthy” cases feature greater exposure. This study examines case characteristics associated with various levels of media attention for missing persons cases, as well as the framing of news reports. Including missing persons cases that received media attention as well as those that did not allowed for a greater understanding of the factors related to the degree of media exposure. Disparities in coverage were seen based on race and age. In addition, the narratives of the reports were framed as cautionary tales and victims were seen as active participants in their disappearance.
Approximately 35,000 people are reported missing each year in Australia; rates elsewhere are even higher, with a recent UK study suggesting that a person goes missing every 2 min. Missing persons place a significant burden on police services; it is interesting, therefore, that very little research attention has been paid to this topic. This mixed methods study aimed to address this significant gap by analysing the mental health and criminal justice histories of a sample of missing persons and comparing them to rates in the general community. The study found that both mental health and criminal justice histories were significantly overrepresented among missing persons compared to those in the general community, and that young people reported missing commonly displayed suicidal behaviour. Results highlight at risk groups and suggest that criminality is much more commonly implicated in missing person incidents than previously thought.