Australian Institute of Criminology

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Missing persons affect 360 000 people, cost $72m a year

Media Release

19 March 2000

Around 30 000 people are reported missing in Australia every year. At a rate of one person every 18 minutes and 1.55 people per 1000, this rate exceeds the total number of victims reported to the police for homicide, sexual assault and unarmed robbery.

These are the findings of the latest report in the Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice series from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC). Missing Persons: Incidence, Issues and Impacts, by Monika Henderson, Peter Henderson and Carol Kiernan, is based on a study conducted during 1995-97, and released today.

The study included analysis of 505 missing person police reports, a national survey of the families and friends of 250 people reported missing to police, and consultations with more than 90 organisations with an interest in missing person issues.

"Although most missing persons are found, the social and economic impacts on families, friends and the community are profound. For every missing person, an average of 12 others are affected, putting the total number of people affected by missing persons every year at over a third of a million", AIC Director, Dr Adam Graycar, said today.

"The estimated economic cost of locating missing people and the associated immediate health costs and loss of earnings while family members search has been estimated at a minimum of $2360 for each missing person or about $72m per year", Dr Graycar said.

Missing people often have a history of repeat incidents. Half of all missing persons identified in the study also went missing before or after the case recorded in the survey.

Almost a third of missing persons are reported by non-correctional institutions, such as psychiatric or general hospitals, supported accommodation for the aged or intellectually disabled, or facilities which provide supervised care to youth.

Of the remainder, most are young people exerting their independence in rebellion against parental authority. More than 60 per cent of missing persons are 11 to 17 years of age.

Around 99 per cent of missing persons are located - 86 per cent within a week (35 per cent on the same day and 27 per cent the following day). Most missing persons are located when they return home (42%) or are found by family or friends (33%).

The report identifies the need more effective police support for families and friends of missing persons, as well as a national approach to missing persons, including more research, education and awareness programs.