Call for overdue recognition of National Missing Persons Week
A campaign for the Federal Government to formally recognise National Missing Persons Week (NMPW) was launched today by the Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN). The week provides critical awareness for missing Australians and helps family members find the answers they are desperately seeking.
The launch of a parliamentary e-petition will ask the federal House of Representatives to acknowledge NMPW, which is not included as an official awareness week on government calendars.
“Officially recognising the week our family started would be an acknowledgement by our government that they stand with the thousands of Australians plagued by the ambiguous loss of a family member or loved one. It would create the genuine visibility missing Australians so desperately deserve,” said Mark Jones, whose family created National Missing Persons Week in 1988 following the disappearance of his brother, Tony Jones in 1982.
NMPW is an essential week of action that takes place annually at the start of August to raise awareness of missing Australians and educate the community about the emotional, financial and administrative hardships their families never imagined they’d have to face, and must navigate alone.
“It’s unacceptable that long-term missing Australians and their families, who don’t have a voice, aren’t yet given this standard of recognition,” said Loren O’Keeffe, MPAN Founder and CEO.
“This week is the biggest opportunity we have to generate community support to help tell the stories of our missing loved ones and the unending nightmare their family members and friends are going through every day.”
“Awareness achieved during this week has led to missing people being found and provided resolution for families. It has also proven to be preventative for vulnerable people considering disappearing themselves in the first place.”
Over 100 Australians are reported missing every day. Of these, between 2-5 per cent become long-term missing and research shows at least 12 of their loved ones are directly affected by their disappearance. The rate of Australians being reported missing increased by more than 25% in the past year, which saw many impacted by lockdown and restrictions as a result of COVID-19.
Kathryn Hanes, daughter of Sydney man Kenneth Hanes, 73, who went missing in September 2020 said recognition of NMPW and the never-ending grief families face is an important starting point for the creation of comprehensive national policies, including measures to meet the needs of their families.
“Critically, we need a special legal status for the missing that recognises the uncertainty and hardship faced by their families and provides a framework to deal with everyday practical issues,” said Hanes.
“For example, in the absence of a death certificate, there should be a legal document that attests to their uncertain fate and their legal status of absence. This would safeguard their rights and acknowledge the immediate needs of their family.”
“Above all, this Week recognises the innate human right of missing persons not to be forgotten and to have the circumstances of their disappearance thoroughly investigated.”
“My hope is the petition validates the endless and traumatic grief-in-waiting families like ours face. The not knowing whether a loved one is dead or alive defies emotional comprehension.”
Ambiguous loss, such as that felt by family and friends of missing loved ones, is one of the most traumatic types of grief, affecting more than 250,000 Australians. It is defined as a complex type of loss that is not certain and becomes harder to cope with over time (unlike with bereavement, where it can become easier). Research on stress and trauma has found that no other form of stress is as unmanageable as ambiguous loss.
“It lacks clarification and closure, and – for that reason – it is rarely openly acknowledged or understood by our community. National Missing Persons Week is one of those rare opportunities,” said O’Keeffe.
“Around eighty-five per cent of missing persons cases in Australia are related to mental health issues, and both sides of this equation are currently slipping through the cracks. Recognition of NMPW would be validation that this torturous experience is important enough to be seen and addressed by our government.”
“Without adequate legislation and policies to lessen the burden on families, this cause is often left in the ‘too hard’ basket with no one willing to take on the inherent complexities. That’s not good enough. Australia’s better than that.”
The parliamentary e-petition is open and accepting signatures until 12 August. Members of the public can sign the e-petition here: https://www.aph.gov.au/e-petitions/petition/EN2862
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