MISSING PERSONS: Theo Hayez, Ellen Wilson, Michael Endres, Bronwyn Winfield, Jeffrey Neville and Malcolm Briggs.
MISSING PERSONS: Theo Hayez, Ellen Wilson, Michael Endres, Bronwyn Winfield, Jeffrey Neville and Malcolm Briggs. Contributed

'Not knowing' is the worst for families of missing people

AN EXPERT from Southern Cross University has weighed in on the reasons why people go missing.

Adjunct Associate Professor Sam Garkawe from the School of Law and Justice at SCU's Lismore campus said that there are many reasons why people go missing.

"People that go missing come from a wide variety of backgrounds and a wide spectrum of communities,” he said.

"It's not refined to the fringes of society, or the poorer sections of society.

"Often it can be caused by some family breakdown or dysfunction, but it can also be a mental illness, or some sort of idea they just want to 'get away' from things.

"It's often caused by family problems, but that doesn't mean we should blame families.”

Prof Garkawe also said that the Missing Persons Department situated in the Victims Services bureau at the state level is also a misnomer.

"It's a little bit strange really... only a small percentage of missing persons end up being missing persons because of a crime - it's in the single digits in terms of percentages,” he said.

Over the past week, The Northern Star has revisited some missing persons cases in the region and found the reasons for disappearances to be wide-ranging.

From misadventures, to being lost at sea, to suspected murders and sheer mysteries, missing persons cases on the Northern Rivers are as old as 45 years and may never be solved.

"Most missing persons are found within 48 hours ... the longer you don't find them for, unfortunately the less chance you have of finding them,” Prof Garkawe said.

"The sooner you report it ... the better chance you have of finding your loved one or friend.”

The toll on loved ones of 'not knowing' can be worse than knowing the missing person is dead, according to Prof Garkawe.

"It's a certain type of trauma. It's called 'ambiguous trauma' because family and friends just don't know one way or another what's happened to their loved one.

"It's important not to blame families for it.

"A certain type of counselling is needed, for this 'ambiguous trauma', which has some differences to normal trauma that somebody suffers as a victim of crime, for example.

"If you know the reason for it (the disappearance) you are able to deal with it in one way or another.”

Prof Garkawe specialises in victimology, and criminal law and procedure.

He has been an academic since 1991 and in 2008 was awarded the Annual Victim Support Australasia Annual Prize, in recognition for 'Outstanding Leadership in Advancing the Academic Discipline of Victimology in Australia, and in Promoting International Recognition of Victims Rights'.