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Wed, 17 Mar 2021

Who vanishes?

Lonely figure in urban setting
PHOTO: Xiaokang Zhang Unsplash

A James Cook University student is analysing the characteristics of long-term missing persons in an effort to help find them or prevent them going missing in the first place.

JCU Masters student Belle, who goes by one name, says more than 38,000 Australians go missing every year.

She says while 98% are located, there are approximately 2600 people whose whereabouts are still unknown after three months and who are defined as a long-term missing person (LTMP).

“In Australia there is limited research on missing persons in general and no known research on those considered to be long-term missing. It raises the question of whether missing persons and LTMPs have similar or different characteristics,” said Belle.

She said the research will compare the characteristics of missing people against a sample of nearly 1100 people who are defined as LTMPs to find similarities and/or differences.

“It would help to know if LTMPs in fact have the same characteristics as those of the general population of missing persons, or not, beyond just the length of time missing.

“If differences do exist, then having a better understanding of those differences may help identify those at risk of becoming a LTMP. This may mean resources could be allocated more effectively and reduce the number of people who become a LTMP,” said Belle.

She said at the moment, all that was known about the long-term missing is that they are more likely to be middle aged to older adults and that they stay missing for longer than the three month period.

“I don’t know what the final defining characteristics will be, but I will be attempting to find commonalities including but not limited to mental health, employment history, criminal association and who reported the person missing. These characteristics and many others may be able to be used to identify patterns of significance,” said Belle.

She said LTMPs are real people with real families and friends who are suffering.

“Apart from helping to reduce the numbers of LTMPs, I hope the research will bring some comfort to family and friends, knowing we are attempting to improve or minimise these and future cases.”


Media enquiries linden.woodward@jcu.edu.au