Australian Institute of Criminology

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Missing persons in Australia

Research and public policy series no. 86

Marianne James, Jessica Anderson and Judy Putt
ISBN 978 1 921185 66 3 ISSN 1326-6004
Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, January 2008

Abstract

Missing persons in Australia is a complex field, with no single service responsible for investigations and support for those affected. While the coordination shared by police and nongovernment agencies is crucial in responding to cases, limitations in collecting and recording data hamper a complete understanding of risk factors that can inform good practice. These limitations are evident at the national level, where knowledge of the characteristics and patterns of missing persons is scant. Certain groups in the community, and individual factors, contribute to the risk of people going missing. This information is necessary to develop strategies that focus on improving preventative measures, early intervention, support services and referral mechanisms. This report updates existing data on missing persons across Australia in 2005-06 to identify at-risk groups. It presents information on good practice from preventative to support measures and outlines policies, practice and research directions. A current snapshot of missing persons is shown by national estimates, demographic characteristics and reporting. Family dysfunction and psychological reasons for going missing are complemented by details on searching, support/counselling services and intervention/prevention practices. Improving data quality, risk assessment procedures, specialised training and education of all stakeholders, and inter-agency coordination are key priorities.